I wanted Fifty Shades to be more sexy: film editor Anne V Coates awarded honorary Oscar

Coates, 90, won her first Oscar for Lawrence of Arabia in 1962, and half a century later this lifetime achievement award caps a long, steady career

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 November, 2016, 2:02pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 November, 2016, 2:02pm

Anne V. Coates didn’t know much about erotic bondage before working on Fifty Shades of Grey , but even at nearly 90 years old, she felt the film should be sexier.

“I fought strongly to get it more sexy,” says Coates. “I had some great ideas. I wanted her wrapped up like a suitcase and hoisted up to the ceiling.”

That adventurous spirit and love of film led Coates to become a sought-after editor for more than 60 years. An Oscar winner for editing 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia, Coates will receive a second statuette on Saturday – an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement – alongside actor Jackie Chan, casting director Lynn Stalmaster and documentarian Frederick Wiseman at the film academy’s eighth annual Governors Awards.

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“I love the fact that [this award] shines a spotlight on editors, because I don’t think they get enough recognition for what they do probably because people don’t really understand what we do,” Coates says.

Film editing is the artistic and technical endeavour of cutting raw footage into cinematic story sequences. Coates says she initially wanted to be a film director, “but in the days when I was young, it was very difficult for women and there weren’t many jobs open to them.” Besides hairstyling and make-up, editing was one of the few options.

Coates became dazzled by the world of film while at boarding school. Her class was reading Wuthering Heights (which she found “extremely boring”) when they went on a field trip to see the film version.

“Well, apart from falling madly for Laurence Olivier, it just excited me to see what you could do with pictures, with telling a story in pictures,” she says.

Coates worked steadily as an editor from 1952 until last year’s Fifty Shades, earning four other Oscar nominations along the way for Becket, The Elephant Man, In the Line of Fire, and Out of Sight.

Director David Lean would prove pivotal in her career. Not only did he hire her for his Oscar-winning Lawrence of Arabia, he encouraged her to share her ideas.

“He always said to me, ‘Have the confidence to say what you think. It doesn’t matter who the producer and director are; you come up with your opinions,’” she recalls. “You’ve got to be fairly tough to be an editor, I think.”

Thus the bid for a sexier Fifty Shades.

As opportunities for women in the film industry increased, Coates was offered directing jobs, but she turned them down. Editing offered a more forgiving schedule for a young mother, she says: “Also, my husband was a director, so you know, too many directors on top of each other.”

She has three children with her late husband, Douglas Hickox. Their two sons are directors and their daughter is a film editor.

Coates says the transition to digital, which she made with 1995’s Congo, didn’t change her style much because she rarely employs the newfangled tricks it offers.

She’s grateful, though, that she won’t have to learn how to edit the inevitable virtual-reality films.

“I won’t, really, because I’m semi-retiring myself right now,” the 90-year-old says. “But the new editors will have to involve themselves in that as well.”