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R.I.P. Sally Menke 1953-2010

September 28th, 2010 No comments

The cinema world lost an exceptional talent yesterday with the death of film editor Sally Menke, award-winning and multi-nominated talent behind the editing of every Quentin Tarantino film, including his latest, “Inglourious Basterds,” for which she was nominated for both an Academy Award and BAFTA award. Apparently Menke went out in the worsening Los Angeles morning heat for a walk with her dog in Beechwood Canyon, but when she did not return, family and friends notified authorities and began searching. Her body was reportedly found near the trail at 2 AM, with her dog guarding her. Although no cause of death has been established, it is believed to be related to the 113 degree heat blanketing Los Angeles yesterday.

It’s a big loss for the film industry – and for Quentin Tarantino especially. Sally Menke had edited every single one of Tarantino’s films, undoubtedly aiding him in developing the quirky chronology-fragmenting style that has come to define a Tarantino film. From the chatty opening of “Reservoir Dogs” through its casually intense violence, torture, and bloody denoument, Sally Menke showed that there was a different way to put together a traditional bank robbery picture that would turn the genre on its ear… if you’ll forgive a bad pun.

As an editor, Sally Menke worked with other directors: she edited Oliver Stone’s “Heaven & Earth” in 1993, (the year before she edited “Pulp Fiction” for Tarantino, for which she and garnered her first Academy Award and BAFTA nominations) and with Lee Tamahori in 1996 on “Mulholland Falls.” In 2000 she edited Billy Bob Thornton’s “All the Pretty Horses,” and in 2001 his “Daddy and Them,” although it seems clear that working with Tarantino was her first priority, and she would only take a non-Tarantino job if the notoriously deliberate writer-director was between films.

But it was “Pulp Fiction” that put both her and Tarantino firmly on the Hollywood map. Nominated for top awards in both America and England, Sally came home empty-handed but with a big reservoir of credibility. For the next few years she worked steadily as Tarantino followed “Pulp Fiction” up with “Jackie Brown,” both ‘Kill Bill’ films, “Kill Bill Vol. 1” and “Kill Bill Vol. 2” as well as the ‘Grindhouse’ double bill of “Grindhouse: Death Proof” and “Death Proof,” its feature-length sibling. This was followed by her greatest artistic accomplishment (and, sadly, her Tarantino swan song), the award-nominated editing of Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.”

Sally Menke’s final film was 2010’s “Peacock,” an oddball indie film starring Cillian Murphy as… well, without ruining things for anyone, let’s just say he’s something of a pick-up artist. Apart from its notoreity as Sally Menke’s last film, “Peacock” will probably be best known as another Ellen Page film…

But Sally Menke’s legacy lives on in the vibrant, life-giving momentum she gave her films and their creators. She will be missed. Her work, however, is for the ages.