09.28.10

Sally Menke, Tarantino's Editor, Dies

The Oscar-nominated Menke, known for her “symbiotic” relationship with Quentin Tarantino, went for a hike in Los Angeles’ record-breaking heat and was found dead early Tuesday morning.

The Oscar-nominated Sally Menke, known for her “symbiotic” relationship with Quentin Tarantino, went for a hike in Los Angeles’ record-breaking heat and was found dead early Tuesday morning.

This story was updated from its original version: On Oct. 5, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office told The Daily Beast that Sally Menke, Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-nominated collaborator and longtime friend, who died after a hike in Los Angeles' sprawling Griffith Park on September 30, had a history of seizures and was carrying medication for the condition when she died.

An autopsy was completed October 1, but officials at the Los Angeles County Coroner's office said the cause of death won't be confirmed for six to eight weeks pending toxicology results. Police authorities suspect Menke became disoriented and collapsed, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Menke grew fatigued from the day’s record-high heat, turned back to head down alone, and never returned home. After a mammoth overnight police search, officers found her body early the next morning at the bottom of a ravine, her Labrador retriever sitting by her side.

In a December 2009 interview with film site Purple Revolver, Menke called film editors “quiet heroes,” adding, “I like it that way.”

Menke, 56, is survived by two children and husband Dean Parisot, the director of Galaxy Quest and Fun With Dick and Jane. She was pronounced dead at 2 a.m., the cause of death still unknown.

Menke was known for her symbiotic relationship with Tarantino. They worked intuitively together, crafting now-classic scenes, such as the John Travolta-Uma Thurman dance-off in Pulp Fiction, a film for which she was nominated for an Oscar, and Christoph Waltz’s milk-drinking interrogation in last year’s Oscar-nominated Inglourious Basterds, which she later said “might be the best thing we've ever done."

Writer-director Michael Lander, who considered Menke a mentor and worked with her on his independent film Peacock, told The Daily Beast that Menke “spoke her mind. You always knew where she stood. If she didn’t like it, you knew. And she was incredibly good at reading people. She would do this thing, where—I’m a fidgety soul—and she would have her back to me… My field of vision of her while she was editing was looking at her frizzy hair, her feet propped up on a chair, and she would say, ‘I hear you moving back there. And I heard two sighs. You’re not happy with this. Let’s talk about it.’”

A choked-up Lander also recalled Menke’s maternal side and said that before a test screening of Peacock, a film about cross-dresser in the middle of Iowa, when he said he was “beside myself” with anxiety, Menke “took me by my hand, and took me outside and put her arm around me, and walked me the entire length of the audience of people who were waiting to get into the film. And she said, ‘Don’t ever forget that these people are here to see the film.’

“She wanted to give me that kind of mental time-out and let me enjoy a moment,” Lander said. “And she did that in her work. She always knew what moments to make important at a specific time.”

In a December 2009 interview with film site Purple Revolver, Menke called film editors “quiet heroes,” adding, “I like it that way.” She described meeting Tarantino when he was interviewing “cheap” editors for his 1992 breakout crime thriller Reservoir Dogs. The script’s tone reminded Menke of Martin Scorsese. The director would read his scripts over the phone to her as he wrote. And Menke checked with Tarantino before she committed to any outside project.

In the Purple Revolver interview, she described working with Tarantino in “little private houses” in Los Angeles that they’d converted into editing suites. “It's very civilized and enabled me to work through both my pregnancies,” she told the site. “Yes, my babies had Tarantino movies played to them in the womb, but they seem to have turned out OK.”

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Menke told Movieline last November that she and Tarantino had talked seriously about doing Kill Bill Vol. 3, the follow-up to their 2003 and 2004 blockbusters, as well as a sequel to the Oscar-nominated Inglourious Basterds. In November, Menke received the Lifetime Achievement honor at the Hamilton Behind the Camera Awards.

“The thing that’s brilliant about the working relationship between QT and I is that it’s very symbiotic,” she told Movieline. “I’ve worked with him now for seventeen years, so I kind of know where he’s going before he even comes in. …We work so cleanly together—we’re on the same railroad track, going to the same place.”

Correction: A previous version of this story said that Menke had outlasted her friend on the hike. But Menke had grown fatigued and headed back down the hill toward her home.

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Gina Piccalo spent a decade at the Los Angeles Times covering Hollywood. She's now a contributing writer for Los Angeles Magazine and her work has appeared in Elle, More and Emmy. She can be found at ginapiccalo.com.

Daily Beast staffers Nicole LaPorte and Christine Pelisek contributed to this report.