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Electra: getting a shot of a vulture and the music

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Electra: the language and an ideal sequence
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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By the time we came to film "Electra", I had learnt enough Greek to appreciate the beauty of Euripides language in that film. There were certain bits where he talks about the welcoming qualities of the poor are often superior to those of the rich. A poor man will give- if he only has a loaf of bread he will share it with you, and there's some very- stuff in there which is very topical. As true today as when Euripides wrote it, all those years ago. And I was just about- enough- I knew enough Greek to appreciate the beauty of the language. And then, that film also contains one sequence which is about three minutes long which I often use in teaching. If I'm teaching a workshop or in a film school. I use that sequence as the ideal- as an example of the ideal combination of direction, acting, lighting, composition, music, editing. In an ideal situation, when all those things contribute and lock into each other, you can get a wonderful result. And that scene is as good a result of such a successful collaboration as I can imagine. Where Orestes comes in, is introduced by the old shepherd who rescued him as a child from his mother, basically. And- he presents him to Electra and says- this is your brother, Orestes, come back from the foreign lands. She's reluctant to believe this, because they don't recognise each other because they haven't seen each other since they were children. So he says, prove to me, show me some signs that this is Orestes. And he says- well, behind his left ear there is a mark which he acquired when together you went out and you were chasing a small deer - elaphopolou. And she says- thimama- I remember. And then he says, and he still has his father's sword. And he shows her the sword. He backs off out of the frame. He has a big close-up of this shepherd with the beard, and he backs out of the frame and in the middle ground you see Orestes and Orestes comes- no, Electra, and Electra comes forward and Orestes comes in from behind the camera and they meet, and she bursts- well she doesn't burst into tears, but she embraces him. And then, and that is already close, but when she embraces him, when you think you're as close as you can get, you go even closer, and she gives a side glance at Orestes' friend, Pilaves who's accompanied him. And then they exit. But it's a wonderful, wonderful mo- I've seen that film 20 times, at least, and I cry every time I see that scene, because it is so powerful, you can't help but cry when you watch that scene. Because Irene is marvellous. The one weakness of "Electra" is that Orestes isn't quite up to it, but then who can, who could be? You know, who is the equivalent of Irene?

Born in Germany, cinematographer Walter Lassally (1926-2017) was best known for his Oscar-winning work on 'Zorba the Greek'. He was greatly respected in the film industry for his ability to take the best of his work in one area and apply it to another, from mainstream to international art films to documentary. He was associated with the Free Cinema movement in the 1950s, and the British New Wave in the early 1960s. In 1987 he published his autobiography called 'Itinerant Cameraman'.

Listeners: Peter Bowen

Peter Bowen is a Canadian who came to Europe to study and never got round to heading back home. He did his undergraduate work at Carleton University (in Biology) in Ottawa, and then did graduate work at the University of Western Ontario (in Zoology). After completing his doctorate at Oxford (in the Department of Zoology), followed with a year of postdoc at the University of London, he moved to the University's newly-established Audio-Visual Centre (under the direction of Michael Clarke) where he spent four years in production (of primarily science programs) and began to teach film. In 1974 Bowden became Director of the new Audio-Visual Centre at the University of Warwick, which was then in the process of introducing film studies into the curriculum and where his interest in the academic study of film was promoted and encouraged by scholars such as Victor Perkins, Robin Wood, and Richard Dyer. In 1983, his partner and he moved to Greece, and the following year he began to teach for the University of Maryland (European Division), for which he has taught (and continues to teach) biology and film courses in Crete, Bosnia, and the Middle East.

Duration: 3 minutes, 24 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008