In Memoriam – Gerald B. Greenberg, ACE

 

Gerald B. Greenberg, ACE, died Dec. 22 after a long illness, leaving behind a huge legacy and collection of memorable films that bear his stamp of originality. He was 81.

Known as Jerry by his friends and colleagues, Greenberg earned an Academy Award® in 1972 for The French Connection, and in 1980 achieved a rare feat of earning two Oscar® nominations in the same year, for Kramer vs. Kramer and Apocalypse Now. In 2015, he received the ACE Career Achievement Award, and will also be remembered as a dedicated artist, painfully honest, who spoke his mind regardless of the consequences.

Starting out editing music for commercials and documentaries in New York in the ‘50s, his break came when he got the job of apprentice to Dede Allen, ACE, on Elia Kazan’s America, America.

In 1967, the movie going public was stunned by the brutal killing at the end of Bonnie and Clyde, a film brilliantly edited by Allen. That scene took movie violence to a whole new level, and it was edited by Greenberg, who was Allen’s assistant and the first one to be known as one of ‘Dede’s Boys.’ Said Allen in the ACE-initiated documentary, The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing, “Jerry did all the initial editing of the sequence. All I did was cut it down.”

His time working for her was a remarkable education that developed into a lifelong friendship. He was Allen’s associate editor on Alice’s Restaurant, which led to his first full editing credit on Sidney Lumet’s Bye Bye Braverman.

Greenberg teamed up with William Friedkin for The Boys in the Band, which led him to Friedkin’s next project, the Oscarwinning The French Connection. This featured the famous car chase with Gene Hackman’s “Popeye” Doyle pursuing a hit man riding an elevated train across Brooklyn. This has been called one of the finest examples of montage editing since Battleship Potemkin (The Art of Motion Picture Editing, Vincent LoBrutto).

The French Connection producer Philip D’Antoni made him an associate producer as well as supervising film editor on his next production, The Seven-Ups, which also featured a great car chase.

Greenberg went on to edit such films as Electra Glide in Blue and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, and was part of the team that edited Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam epic, Apocalypse Now. Richard Marks, ACE, another of Dede’s Boys, was the team leader. Greenberg is credited with editing the famous Ride of the Valkyries sequence in the film but he was firmly against editing timed to music, which he referred to as “Mickey Mouse editing” (CinemaEditor, Quarter 1, 2015).

After completing Oscar-winnning drama Kramer vs. Kramer, Greenberg went to work for Brian De Palma on Dressed to Kill. The film represented a departure from De Palma’s earlier lowbudget thrillers filled with blood and guts. Greenberg’s editing struck a perfect balance between eroticism and suspense.  This led to five more films with De Palma including Body Double, Scarface and The Untouchables, which features the shoot-out at the train station that is an homage to the Odessa steps sequence from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin.

Greenberg was part of the crew for the ill-fated Michael Cimino epic, Heaven’s Gate, the film that broke United Artists. The picture was pulled in the first week of distribution and a flurry of studio executives were trying to figure how to salvage it. When one of these people approached Greenberg with his notes he was told, “I only take notes from the director.”

He went on to do Awakenings, For the Boys and American History X (with Alan Heim, ACE), and in 1981 he stepped in to help his mentor, Dede Allen, finish Reds. His final credit was in 2015 for Point Break.

Greenberg was a champion for editing, and he did not think we should take a backseat to anybody. The late Tom Rolf, ACE, said every movie is really four movies: the movie imagined, the movie written, the movie directed and the movie edited. We are the last stop in the process and ours is the only one that will be seen. Greenberg called the shots as he saw them. We all need to do that particularly since he is gone. The final film is our responsibility. Fortunately for us Jerry Greenberg’s work lives on for us as a reminder.

We have lost a giant. –Jack Tucker, ACE