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Getting work as a clapper boy at Riverside Studios


Working at a photographic studio and the first job in the film
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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The job at Leonardson's, I didn't really fancy that. I thought this is okay, but I can do better than that. So then I... then I went to... I found a job in a photographic studio which was run by a very interesting man called Jean Straker, Jean like the French Jean, but he wrote it Jean and he called himself Jean, although that's really a woman's name in English. Anyway, that was his name, Jean Straker and he ran a photographic business in partnership with two other photographers, one of whom was a Hungarian called Gabor Denes and the other one was a industrial photographer, his name was Collier, Lionel... I think it was Lionel Collier. So between the three of the... Straker was a sort of photojournalist really, but he was a man of all work. He knew many things. They had this building in Berwick Market which, for some reason, the ground floor... during the entire time that I was there, the ground floor of that building was occupied by a job lot... job lot of Arab toilets. You know, the toilet you kneel... you squat on rather than you sit on, and, for some reason, which I've never understood, there were all these lying on the floor; the ground floor was entirely covered. So the ground floor wasn't used, but the building had about eight floors. So it had a studio in it and a lab... a processing lab for stills. I learnt an awful lot from all the three of them. Portraiture from the Hungarian and, kind of, opportunistic photography or journalistic photography from Straker, and industrial photography from Collier, from the third one.

So that was a very interesting time, and it went on for two years. And then I got my first job in the film industry, if you use a very broad definition, which was with a tiny firm called Kinocrat, which we used to call Kinocrap, which made documentary films on... and medical films on 16mm because one of the owners, it was a partnership, two people, and one of the two people was a medical doctor. So they made a certain amount of medical films. One of the first films I remember assisting on was called Complete Laryngectomy and it was an extremely bloody film. I learnt... in that film I learnt to, sort of, watch blood without fainting, because it was an extremely bloody film, in Kodachrome, of course. But the thing about 16mm was that 16mm was considered the amateur... a gauge for amateurs and there were only two companies in London at that time, we're talking about '45 '46? '46. There were only two companies at the time in London using that as a professional medium for their work. And there was a laboratory in London, which for many years, went under the name of Substandard Film Finishers Limited. And the reason for that was that 35mm was known as the Standard Gauge, and 16mm was known as the Substandard Gauge. So they called themselves Substandard Film Finishers because they only processed 16 mm, and it didn't occur to them that perhaps this wasn't necessarily a good title for a company. So after many years they changed their name to Filmatic and it still exists under that name.

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: portaiture, industrial photography, journalism

Duration: 3 minutes, 39 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008