If there's an editor you should know but probably don't, it's George Tomasini. It's no surprise to find the editor of Psycho overshadowed by one of the industry's most prolific and influential filmmakers. One of Alfred Hitchcock's closest collaborators, George Tomasini first worked with Hitchcock on Rear Window and went on to edit Vertigo, North by Northwest, and The Birds. But if there was one scene to typify Tomasini's work it would be the Shower Scene in Psycho. Approximately forty-five seconds, seventy-eight cuts and one killer dissolve and Tomasini forever established himself as the editor of one the most iconic scenes in horror and all of cinema.
Two things we can take away from Tomasini himself and his Shower Scene:
1. The marks of a good editor are not just found in his cuts but in his caliber and rapport with the director. Hitchcock found these marks in Tomasini and over the course of a decade the two became very good friends. Tomasini was able to facilitate and eventually anticipate Hitchcock's creative vision. This is not to say Tomasini only brought a good attitude to the cutting room. Quite the contrary, Hitchcock often sought Tomasini's perspective by giving him first cut of the film. Tomasini's ability to heighten fear by condensing or expanding time and space helped shape what we now call "Hitchcockian" cinema, a term widely used throughout the film industry today. Unfortunately, Tomasini's ten-year run with Hitchcock was cut short when he died from a heart attack. Nevertheless, Tomisini proves the editor, not just his edits, make for successful projects and long careers.
2. Boundaries inspire creativity. In every study of Psycho it is inevitable to come across some commentary on the Shower Scene. In at least half of those commentaries the Hays Code makes an appearance. What follows is the usual diatribe against creative censorship by someone whose perspective of cinematic art is detached from the reality. Whether moral, financial, or temporal; whether it's the MPAA, a director's ego, a producer's wallet, or a client's brand; there will always be boundaries. True creativity in editing is the result of seeing those boundaries as context and making cuts that seamlessly coincide so as to make the viewer unaware of any boundaries, restrictions, or limitations. Were George Tomasini allowed to let the film gratuitously linger on a nude woman being knifed in a shower, do you think the scene would have the same impact as it does today? Next time your editorial vision is restricted or even rejected, embrace that limitation for what it is, an opportunity to be creative. If you're able to do that, you'll become an editor in high demand.
Watch Alfred Hitchcock talk editing.