Anne V. Coates, a British-born film editor who won an Oscar for her work in making the 1962 desert epic “Lawrence of Arabia,” one of the most visually stunning films in history, died May 8 at a retirement facility in Woodland Hills, Calif. She was 92.
Her death was announced by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. No cause was reported.
Ms. Coates spent more than 60 years in one of the film industry’s most important but least understood jobs, working alongside such directors as Sidney Lumet, Milos Forman, David Lynch and Steven Soderbergh. Her final credit was on the sexually charged 2015 film “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
“There are lots of really good editors,” Sir Carol Reed, the director of “The Third Man” and other films, said of Ms. Coates, “but I have never had one with so much heart.”
A film editor takes raw footage and pieces it together, matching it with sound and music, to create the pace, sequencing and flow of a movie. Oscar-winning film editor Walter Murch once described the job to NPR as “a cross between a short-order cook and a brain surgeon.”
Ms. Coates worked as a nurse before her uncle, British studio chief J. Arthur Rank, helped her find her a filmmaking job in the 1940s — working behind the scenes on religious films.
“He thought, ‘That’ll cool her down,’ ” she said in 2016. “Didn’t work.”
At the time, film editing was considered an unglamorous technical job that was often filled by women.
“When I tried to get into the industry, there were only certain jobs open to women,” Ms. Coates told the Hollywood Reporter in 2016. “Things like hairdressing didn’t really interest me. I might have been interested in photography, but women couldn’t do that in those days. I found the most interesting job a woman could do, other than acting, was editing.”
Her first credit as a film editor came in 1952 with “The Pickwick Papers,” a retelling of the Charles Dickens novel. Her most challenging and best-known work came 10 years later when British director David Lean tapped her for “Lawrence of Arabia.”
The film, starring Peter O’Toole as a British adventurer who led Arab tribesmen in battle on horseback during World War I, featured shimmering desert vistas, camel caravans and moody close-ups of O’Toole and actor Omar Sharif.
By the time Lean finished shooting in Spain and North Africa, Ms. Coates had to make visual sense of 33 miles of raw footage. She was on a tight postproduction schedule because the film was to be shown to Queen Elizabeth before it was released to the public.
The film was almost four hours in length and was considered a triumph of technical filmmaking and won seven Academy Awards, including one for best picture and another for Ms. Coates.
Perhaps her best-known sequence in the film comes in a scene in which O’Toole tells a British official, played by Claude Rains, of his determination to go to the desert. He lights Rains’s cigarette, then holds the match until the flame almost touches his fingers. When O’Toole finally blows out the match, the scene immediately shifts to a slow, still shot of the sun rising over the horizon into an orange sky. In film editing, a “match cut” is the term for creating continuity from one scene to the next, whether through a matching visual element, movement or sound.
In “Lawrence of Arabia,” Ms. Coates’s sudden shift from the match to the rising sun is considered one of the most memorable match cuts in movie history — with the added visual pun of being executed with an actual match. Steven Spielberg has said the scene helped spur his interest in filmmaking.
Ms. Coates said the famous match cut came about by accident more than design while she and Lean were cutting the film.
“Almost at the same moment,” she said, “David and I looked at each other and said, ‘That is a fabulous cut.’”
Ms. Coates had four other Oscar nominations during her career, for “Becket” (1964), Lynch’s “The Elephant Man” (1980), “In the Line of Fire (1993) and Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight” (1998). She received an honorary Academy Award in 2016.
While making “Out of Sight,” she became friends with the film’s star, George Clooney, telling him her job was “saving an actor’s performance.”
“George thought that was funny,” Ms. Coates told the Los Angeles Times. “Jennifer Lopez, who was the female lead, came by and George said, ‘This is the editor, Anne Coates, who is going to save your performance.’ Jennifer did not think it was funny.”
Anne Voase Coates was born Dec. 12, 1925, in Reigate, England. Her father was an architect.
She became enchanted with movies when she watched William Wyler’s “Wuthering Heights” (1939), with Laurence Olivier. After being based in Britain for years, she moved to Hollywood in 1986.
Her marriage to director Douglas Hickox ended in divorce. Survivors include three children, Emma E. Hickox, a film editor, and Anthony Hickox and James Hickox, both directors.
Ms. Coates worked on more than 50 films, including “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” (1965), Lumet’s “Murder on the Orient Express” (1974), “What About Bob?” (1991), Richard Attenborough’s “Chaplin” (1992), Soderbergh’s “Erin Brockovich” (2000) and “Unfaithful” (2002), directed by Adrian Lyne.
Despite the landmark work of Ms. Coates, Dede Allen, Thelma Schoonmaker and other female film editors, only 17 percent of Hollywood’s top films in 2016 were edited by women.
“In a way, I’ve never looked at myself as a woman in the business,” Ms. Coates said in 2000. “I’ve just looked at myself as an editor.”