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Best, Richard (1916-2004)


Main image of Best, Richard (1916-2004)

Eager to work in the film industry, Richard Best urged his mother to write to her former neighbour, J. Arthur Rank, when he read about his financing Turn of the Tide (d. Norman Walker, 1935). This led to the film's producer John Corfield placing Best at the British and Dominions cutting rooms at Elstree. Over the next few years he assisted editors including David Lean on As You Like It (d. Paul Czinner, 1936) and Reginald Beck on This Man in Paris (d. David MacDonald, 1938). During the Second World War MacDonald assigned him to the Army Film Unit (AFU). On Desert Victory (1943), Best recalled that director Roy Boulting "gave me a pattern to go on", and possibly some notes, but "it was left to me to choose the order and more or less the timing, which was obviously left loose at that stage and we gradually tightened things up as we went along". After the war Best edited three films for the Boulting brothers. As independent producers they did not have "executives looking at the rushes as far as I can remember. That provided a welcome freedom". This helped inculcate Best's attitude that his first loyalty was to the director rather than producer. Throughout the 1950s and 60s he worked at ABPC's Elstree Studios. After a period of freelance work Best found continuity of employment again, editing documentaries at British Transport Films between the late 1970s and early 80s.

At ABPC Best became part of what J. Lee Thompson described as his "very comfortable and talented team". Best's favourite film is Ice Cold in Alex (d. Lee Thompson, 1958). One of the sequences he relished editing is when an ambulance is painstakingly winched up a hill. Trusted by Thompson, Best began editing while the crew were still on location in Libya. In terms of guidance for this sequence "there was nothing in the script", and no notes. Best decided "the whole point of that sequence was effort... not only effort, but will they get there? Tension, really." To underline the amount of time involved, the uncertainty of the outcome, and the strain experienced by the characters, he used many "dissolves to increase the effort". As he puts it, "dissolves are very important; they do a lot emotionally". In Best's second favourite film, The Dam Busters (d. Michael Anderson, 1955), emotional involvement with the narrative was achieved by different means. For a British film of this period a significant number of cuts rather than dissolves between earlier and later sequences are used. Often they help to emphasise the urgency of an operation working to strict deadlines. At a more local level interest is sustained by dispensing with redundant action. For example, when three bombers taxi across a runway and take off on their mission, Best repeatedly cuts before the third has exited the frame. To cut later "would be boring; the third one you know what's going to happen... that's timing".

Early in his career Best worked out some practical concepts to guide his editing. Having trouble editing close-ups of a romantic dialogue between the hero and heroine of The Dancing Years (d. Harold French, 1949), he added frames from before and after they delivered their lines in order to extend the performers' timing. Lengthening their pauses gave a previously flat exchange of dialogue unspoken depths of feeling and meaning. This sparked the realisation that, within individual sequences, 're-timing' was "one of the big things of editing... you can speed up, and you can slow down". 'Pacing', for Best, relates to a longer view of every sequence's place within the narrative; this "comes later, when you have the whole film together and it's dragging in a certain part, then you come to the pacing of the whole film".

Roy Perkins/Martin Stollery, British Film Editors: The Heart of the Movie (BFI Publishing, 2004)

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Much-loved World War II classic about the famous bombing raid

Thumbnail image of Ice Cold in Alex (1958)Ice Cold in Alex (1958)

Classic war film charting a perilous journey across North Africa

Thumbnail image of Look Back in Anger (1959)Look Back in Anger (1959)

Richard Burton stars as archetypal disaffected youth Jimmy Porter

Thumbnail image of Magic Box, The (1951)Magic Box, The (1951)

Star-studded biopic of British film pioneer William Friese-Greene

Thumbnail image of Promises, Promises (1982)Promises, Promises (1982)

British Rail training film about the importance of punctuality

Thumbnail image of Rebel, The (1960)Rebel, The (1960)

Tony Hancock's big-screen debut stars him as a talentless but ambitious artist

Thumbnail image of School for Scoundrels (1959)School for Scoundrels (1959)

Alastair Sim teaches Ian Carmichael how to be a cad like Terry-Thomas.

Thumbnail image of Weak and the Wicked, The (1954)Weak and the Wicked, The (1954)

A young woman, framed for fraud, journeys through the prison system

Thumbnail image of Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957)Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957)

Powerful and progressive drama of a marriage in crisis

Thumbnail image of Yield to the Night (1956)Yield to the Night (1956)

Diana Dors stars in a powerful anti-capital punishment film

Thumbnail image of Avengers, The (1961-69)Avengers, The (1961-69)

Ultra-stylish '60s spy drama that all but invented cult TV

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