Carol Littleton - Writer

Editor. Nationality: American. Born: Oklahoma, c.1948. Education: Attended University of Oklahoma. Family: Married the cinematographer John Bailey. Career: 1972–77—owned company which made commercial ad spots; 1977—began as editor with director Karen Arthur on Legacy , followed by Arthur's The Mafu Cage in 1978 before her first major commercial release with 1979's French Postcards ; 1982—Oscar nomination for editing Steven Spielberg's E.T.—The Extraterrestrial ; 1987—elected president of Editors Guild Local 776 (West Coast).

Films as Editor:


Legacy (Arthur)


The Mafu Cage ( My Sister, My Love ) (Arthur)


French Postcards (Huyck)


Roadie (Rudolph)


Body Heat (Kasdan)


E.T.—The Extraterrestrial (Spielberg)


The Big Chill (Kasdan)


Places in the Heart (Benton)


Silverado (Kasdan)


Brighton Beach Memoirs (Saks)


Swimming to Cambodia (Demme)


Vibes (Kwapis); The Accidental Tourist (Kasdan)


White Palace (Mandoki)


The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe (Bailey); Grand Canyon (Kasdan)


Benny & Joon (Chechik)


China Moon (Bailey) (co); Wyatt Earp (Kasdan)


Diabolique (Chechik)


Twilight (Benton); Beloved (Jonathan Demme)


Mumford (Kasdan); Tuesdays with Morrie (Mick Jackson—for TV)


On LITTLETON: books—

Oldham, Gabriella, First Cut: Conversations with Film Editors , 1992.

On LITTLETON: articles—

"Close-ups: Off-Screen Romance," in Millimeter , February 1986.

"The Art of Light and Rhythm," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), May 1987.

Travers, Peter, "Twilight," Rolling Stone , March 1997.

Van Schaick, A., "Women on the Cutting Edge," in Moviemaker (Pasadena), May/June/July 1997.

* * *

Editor Carol Littleton's music training is evident in the lyrical images that open Places in the Heart . Pictures of people populating a dustbowl town during the Great Depression may epitomize her work, a gentle evocation of humanity undergoing some emotionally trying struggle of common rather than Herculean tests.

Her greatest achievements in structuring film images seem to fall into quiet, understated imagery. Even with the fantastical elements of E.T. , for which she received an Academy Award nomination for her editing, Littleton emphasized the simple magic of the friendship between the boy, Elliott, and his alien visitor in a manner suitable to François Truffaut. While it may have been an unlikely approach to science-fiction fantasy, it surely had much to do with why audiences responded to the fable. Even hardened audiences warmed to this sentimental and charming story.

With frequent collaborator Lawrence Kasdan, Littleton has helped bring warmth to The Accidental Tourist and the entertaining The Big Chill , two of his successes. The stylish Body Heat , revisiting Hollywood's film noir, brought imitation after imitation, perhaps including Littleton's own collaboration with her husband, cinematographer John Bailey, in his foray as director with China Moon . Kasdan and Littleton also worked together on two Westerns, Silverado and Wyatt Earp , the former a superficial homage to childhood oaters and the latter windy, dry, and far too long.

Littleton has said that simplicity is the key and that, while many editors have great technical knowledge, those that "can make a film purely emotional at the same time" are rarer. And in fact Littleton's best work seems simple on the surface but has an underlying emotional core that strikes a real note for audiences. Friendship could be said to be at the heart of E.T. , Places in the Heart , and most of her work with director Kasdan and this is some of her most successful work artistically.

Even in the less-pleasing films Littleton has edited, such as Vibes , Brighton Beach Memoirs and the remake of Diabolique , critics take note of the assistance that she has given the work. The film may not be good, but Littleton as editor has helped make it a little better.

The editor's role is unspecific and anonymous, according to Littleton; it is much like that of a symphony conductor who pulls diverse elements together in an attempt to make a cohesive whole. Her best work seems to emphasize affection and humanity that is clearly heartfelt.

—Allen Grant Richards

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