The season of rambling acceptance speeches is at hand, prompting that nasty question: Why can’t award winners learn how to edit their gratitude? Or find an editor to help?

The answer is in the process itself, which Cate Blanchett, upon winning over the weekend at the Critics Choice Awards for Tár, called a “patriarchal pyramid.” She should know because the pyramid has granted her more than 120 awards for her 70 movies (including two Oscars).

Whether in speeches or the projects generating them, filmmakers and writers classically distrust their editors. There’s even a new documentary about a classically feisty editing conflict. Titled Turn Every Page, it deals with books, not film — and, predictably, it’s too long.

But so are major movies out there, some boasting running times of roughly three hours – Avatar: The Way of Water, Babylon, White Noise and even the musical Elvis, which runs 159 minutes, padded with documentary footage.

Historically, filmmakers have favored movies of this girth because they generate awards. Witness George Stevens’ Giant, Richard Attenborough’s Ghandi or David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. The Irishman, Martin Scorsese’s Netflix opus about the Mafia, clocked in at four hours.

Cate Blanchett at the Critics Choice Awards (Getty Images)

Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Critics Choice Association

Some filmmakers have encountered fierce studio resistance to their editing methods. Michael Cimino famously threatened bodily harm to a studio executive over Heaven’s Gate, Elaine May simply sued (A New Leaf), and several directors including Robert Altman actually ran off with the prints.

Clint Eastwood resolved conflicts through rigorous self-editing. Faced with the challenging background of Iwo Jima, he created two distinct films offering different points of view: Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers. Both were more tightly edited than John Wayne’s preachy opus Sands of Iwo Jima.

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Documentaries confront their own unique editing challenges given their appetite for detail. Rory Kennedy’s new Netflix doc The Volcano: Rescue from Whakaari presents riveting footage of an eruption on White Island, off New Zealand. It offers emotional interviews with badly burned survivors and witnesses.

In the editing, the film makes shrewd use of its time clock: The volunteer rescue force must save the survivors from flowing lava even as their own physical condition deteriorates. The doc has an expansive story to tell in a tight running time of 1 hour, 38 minutes.

There’s no clock ticking in Turn Every Page, which covers the feisty but productive 20-year tug of war between an accomplished editor (Robert Gottlieb, age 91) and a talented if verbose writer (Robert Caro, age 86). Their teamwork has yielded prize-winning books The Power Brokers (about Robert Moses) and The Years of Ascent: Lyndon B. Johnson. But the process has been arduous.

Gottlieb cut the Moses book from 1 million words to a mere 700,000, but the LBJ book is still in the works after four volumes, with Caro still writing the fifth. Caro was indignant when his editor cut a section of the LBJ bio that explained the history of grass in Texas. “It’s not like I’m tearing his heart out,” the editor explains.

Yet even Gottlieb can be expansionist: He famously changed the title of Joe Heller’s novel from Catch-18 to Catch-22.

Turn Every Page director Lizzie Gottlieb edited her film down to 1 hour, 52 minutes. I’m looking forward to her award acceptance speech: Since her doc is about her father, will she repeat Blanchett’s charge that awards reflect “the patriarchal pyramid”?


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