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Popularising Greece


Zorba the Greek: Changing production companies and the Oscars
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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Initially the film was going to be a United Artists film, who had been the producers of Electra, the financiers of Electra. And then a problem appeared with Tony's stop-date. Tony had a contract, Tony Quinn that is, he had a contract with Fox to make High Wind in Jamaica, I think it was. That implied a stop-date that he couldn't go; he couldn't overshoot the schedule of Zorba by more than a week or so, and they thought that's a bit dicey, that we won't take that risk. So there was a problem. So, the solution to the problem was that Fox took over the film, took over Zorba, in the end and they produced the film. So there weren't any overlap. But we didn't go over schedule, so it wouldn't have been a problem, but they weren't, they weren't willing to risk that, so it became a Fox picture. Of course Fox drew all the benefit from it winning the Oscars and all that. To my considerable surprise I won the Oscar for that along with... along with Lila Kedrova and the art director, Vassilis Photopoulos. And, I was busy on a long documentary job for the National Film Board of Canada the next year. And, I didn't even realise I'd been nominated. And, many years later when Fox gave up their office in... they had a sort of a production office in London at that time, and many years later when they closed that all down, I received the Nomination Certificate which they put in some drawer somewhere, but it never reached me. And the Oscar itself, because I couldn't go, and I wouldn't go to Hollywood, because you have to go on speculation. You might win or you might not. It might be one of the other five nominees who win it. Also, that was the last but one year where there were two Oscars for photography. There was a black and white Oscar and a colour Oscar. I think it was My Fair Lady who won the colour Oscar that year. But two years later they abolished all that because there weren't anymore black and white films, as simple as that. Anyway, I wouldn't have gone to Hollywood anyway, and I couldn't go because I was busy, so the Oscar was received by Arlene Dahl, and there's wonderful photograph somewhere of... which says, 'Zorba photographer wins Oscar with Ilford stock', and above that is a photograph of two men shaking hands, neither of which is me. Because they panicked. They tried to get hold of me and they couldn't get hold of me and they panicked and they published this photograph. When you read the text it says, 'The Managing Director of Mole Richardson, Rome congratulates the Managing Director of Ilford, Italy, on Walter Lassally winning the Oscar for Zorba the Greek'.

And, then the upshot of that was, afterwards, of course, I got a lot of offers. I got quite a few offers, all of which I turned down for various reasons. But I was offered Bunny Lake is Missing by Otto Preminger where I didn't like the script, and I was offered Arabesque by Stanley Donen where, again, I didn't like the script. And, there were some other films where Kate said no, he's busy, which was true. I was making than and they said well no he's not doing anything, we've checked. And she said yes, he's doing this long documentary for the National Film Board, and they said, 'A documentary?' They couldn't believe that you'd turn down a feature for a... because you were working on a documentary. Later I regretted it slightly. Occasionally I, sort of, said, well this would've been an entry into the American mainstream, but I was never really... I was never really keen on that. I wanted to make the kind of films, mainly intimate films. In that respect, Zorba is already an except... no, it is an intimate film. Zorba is less of an epic than Tom Jones. And... and I wanted to make that kind of... continue making that kind of movie. I didn't want to enter the American mainstream. But sometimes I have a, sort of, twinge of regret that I let that opportunity slip by a bit cavalierly, one could say.

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.

Tags: schedule, production, Oscar, documentary, film

Duration: 4 minutes, 9 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008