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Film editors are mysterious figures in Hollywood. This is in part because so few people really understand what an editor does, and partly because so few directors like to recognize how crucial a great editor is to their final cut. (Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese are notable exceptions.) So, it's not surprising if you haven't heard of two-time Oscar-nominated editor Roderick Jaynes, who is credited with cutting every film Joel and Ethan Coen have made. These fraternal filmmakers have described him as a cantankerous British chap whose in his late 80s or early 90s. But in all their years working with him, Jaynes has only ever spoken out about their collaboration once. Of course, that's pretty impressive considering Jaynes doesn't exist.
A creation of the Coens, Jaynes is little more than a pseudonym the brothers share when cutting their movies together. Though he's not up for any honors this year, with the Academy Awards around the corner, it seemed a good time to look back to the closest thing to an interview "Jaynes" ever granted. It's from The Guardian circa 2001 (via Movies.com) and in it, he reveals how he and the Coens came up with the title for The Man Who Wasn't There.
Jaynes began by confessing that living in Haywards Heath, he had no motivation to keep up with pop culture. So when it came time to pick a title for the neo-noir he'd been cutting, he was mystified by the Coen's suggestions. He derides their picks, from "Pansies Don't Float," "Missing, Presumed Ed," "The Nirdlinger Doings," and "Ed Crane, You So Crazy!" Yet Jaynes didn't hate "I Love You, Birdie Abundas!"
But as the brothers bandied about titles, Jaynes tells us, he focused on the cut, lamenting, "The chore was familiar to me, this being my seventh picture with these film-makers, and prompted me to wonder whether a deft and resourceful film editor mightn't sometimes be less the director's friend than his enabler, licensing the sloppiness and ineptitude of he who might otherwise reform. This is a theme upon which, sadly, I could at this point write a book."
However, he was inspired to come up with a title of his own once these bumbling brothers he calls "cretins" offered him a paid holiday weekend in Blackpool should they choose his suggestion. Here's how that went:
"They had solicited my advice, they now told me, because they thought that, being British, I might know some 'Shakespearean stuff that might work'. They propounded the theory that a good title intrigues, is suggestive, allusive, and makes one want to know more. I was going to suggest "The Man with the Gas Hearth" but, mindful that they also wanted something that savoured of pulpy confession, proposed "My Hearth Is Gas". This prompted a few minutes' thought from Ethan at the end of which he asked: 'Is that from the sonnets?'"
The whole scathing "recounting" is worth a read. But in the end the fictional man explains, "my musings on their personal vacuity bore me to what I thought was not a bad title for their film: "The Man Who Wasn't There," and a movie was born." And of course, Jaynes got his holiday.