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Lawson, Tony


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A temporary job at a small documentary production company introduced Tony Lawson to filmmaking. The congenial atmosphere in the cutting rooms convinced him to opt for a career in editing. From the mid-1960s onwards Lawson freelanced as an assistant sound editor and assistant editor on features, working with Ann Chegwidden and Norman Savage.

Lawson's break came on the controversial Straw Dogs (1971). He got on well with director Sam Peckinpah, who was impressed by some promotional material he cut. After Savage and another editor left the production, Lawson eventually gained a co-editing credit. During the 1970s he worked twice more with Peckinpah and spent two years with Stanley Kubrick on Barry Lyndon (1975). Since then his most long-standing collaborations have been with directors Nicolas Roeg and, more recently, Neil Jordan. Lawson has often worked on films that have enabled him to experiment within the parameters of mainstream narrative cinema. He emphasises that alongside considerations of continuity "one of the things editors should be looking for too is conflicts and contrasts...cut from a wide shot to a close shot, loud to soft, bright to dark, all those kind of things". Lawson sees film as a collaborative medium where it is nevertheless possible to identify different directors' films. He tentatively speculates that "a director can get to what he wants more easily, more fully, if the people that he surrounds himself with either understand him or they understand each other, essentially."

An example is the sequence in Cross of Iron (West Germany/UK, d. Peckinpah, 1977) where Sergeant Steiner (James Coburn) is caught in an explosion. A series of dissolves between shots of the blast and Steiner, some in slow motion, extend its impact. These are inter-cut with and superseded by a rapidly cut selection of shots of other characters, shots repeated from earlier in the narrative, imagined encounters by a lake, and shots of Steiner recovering in hospital. The latter include several extreme close-ups of a light being shone into his eye. Peckinpah responded very positively to Lawson's work on this sequence because it was a successful experiment in a style of editing the director had become identified with. Lawson recalls: "I got a piece of music [not retained in the finished film], the Japanese Kodo drummers, which was just an extraordinary piece of music, and allied to the visuals turned this sequence into a quasi-religious, mystical experience; near death. I know I hit Sam with that, because he called everyone in to see it."

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

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Bad Timing (1980)Bad Timing (1980)

Nicolas Roeg's intricate, disturbing account of a doomed love affair

Thumbnail image of Barry Lyndon (1975)Barry Lyndon (1975)

Stanley Kubrick's visually ravishing reconstruction of the 18th century

Thumbnail image of Don't Look Now (1973)Don't Look Now (1973)

Dazzling psychological thriller about grief and loss set in wintry Venice

Thumbnail image of Track 29 (1988)Track 29 (1988)

Disturbing Oedipal drama from Dennis Potter and Nicolas Roeg

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