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Zorba the Greek: film stock

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Zorba the Greek: choosing to shoot in black and white
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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Cacoyannis came to me, about less than two weeks, I would say, before we started shooting, having had a flea put in his ear by Quinn as well, who was rather afraid of playing that role. Actors like Quinn are terribly afraid of almost anything. They panic at the slightest drop of a hat. And- So Cacoyannis said- let's make it in colour, we can afford it. And I said- oh no, no, we're not going to do that. And he said- but look, Madame Hortense's bedroom would look so lovely in colour. I said, that's very true, but what about the murder of the widow? You're going to have red earth, blue sky, green trees, and there's nothing you can do about it. It turns into a picture postcard, and there is nothing you can do about it. And, fortunately, I was able to prevail to have it made in black and white. Because, two years later, 66, was the end of black and white, basically, because of American television. The factor that was the- the important factor there was that American television, after 1966, would no longer buy a black and white movie- the rights to a black and white movie. That was sufficient of a reason, although American television sales were only, perhaps, 0.1 of 1% of- 0.5 of 1% of the total, it was sufficient of a factor to say, well, you know, if we make it in black and white we forego all that, why throw all that money down the drain, we'll make it in colour. If you like, you can print it in black and white, and certain directors- in fact, that happened several times. Many a film has been made in colour, simply because somebody said, look, look, let's make it in colour, then if something goes wrong we always have that fall-back position, we always can go back to- you can have it printed in black and white, but it's not the same. A print, however good, from a colour negative in black and white, is not the same as a good black and white print from a good black and white negative. There is a subtle difference, but quite a significant difference. But that question, shall we make it in colour or in black and white, would simply not have arisen after 1966. Impossible.

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: 2 minutes, 12 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008