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The Blood of Hussain: The white stallion


The Blood of Hussain: Kika Markham and the Moharram procession
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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One of the actresses in the film was Kika Markham. The beautiful Kika Markham who, unfortunately, is a member, alongside with Vanessa Redgrave, of the Worker's Revolutionary Party. That was okay for a while, but there came a certain point when she started to recruit the... she wanted to convert the local electricians to communism and they weren't even... they couldn't even read and write. After a while we had to descend on her and say, 'Look, let's finish with all this nonsense'. You know, we can't put up with that. It was ridiculous. But I suspect that the... excuse me one second. I suspect that the casting of Kika Markham by Jamil Dehlavi wasn't entirely arbitrary, let's say, because he played a part in the film and she is his mistress. So I think that had something to do with her casting. That led to a very interesting scene with a lot of ramifications.

There's a scene where he's in bed with his mistress, in a house in Lahore, and they hear some noise, some people approaching, like a procession, and a lot of noise. He goes onto the balcony, I think she stays in bed, and he goes onto the balcony and he looks over the balcony, and what does he see? What he sees is the Moharram procession. Now Moharram is the month of fasting, and in the month of fasting the Shiites have this ceremony where they flagellate themselves with... either with ropes, but in the case of Pakistan, it was still permitted, and still is today, I believe, that this takes place with chains. You have like a cat o' nine tails, you have a handle and attached to this handle are eight or nine short metal chains, and on the end of each metal chain is a very sharp, curved knife, and you go like this, you see, shouting, 'Hussain, Hussain!' This was going on, in reality, underneath. It was real, it wasn't staged. So I filmed that.

I duly filmed that and in the end result it led to some very interesting ramifications. Because, in another part of this same film, not far from that scene, is a scene where they have a very melodramatic, Hollywood-style shoot-out in a cinema where people get hit and, sort of, fall over the balcony into the auditorium. The reality is effected. The extreme reality of the Moharram scene is, of course, affected by being juxtaposed against this fictional and obviously staged melodramatic shoot-out. So nobody who sees that film is going to know that the blood that you see on those people is real blood, they're really doing it. So the thing becomes demeaned. I said to Jamil... we had some problems towards the end of that film because, first of all, the visual qualities that I found in Towers of Silence... he didn't evince those in his direction or in his co-operation with me in the second film. And I began to wonder if he really made that... if there wasn't some other influence there, which I think, I never discovered entirely, but I think he was working in collaboration with one of the film schools in New York City, and I think he had a lot of help there. Because he never evinced that kind of... there was no evidence of that kind of visual high as, say, with Cacoyannis, who had a very definite visual talent. And he became obsessed with things like blood capsules. I said, 'Well, for God's sake, you know, you've got this Moharram procession and if you do nonsense with blood capsules and you get almost obsessed by that, it demeans the other thing completely. It's not a thing you can easily tie together'. So in the latter part of the film we kind of parted company a bit.

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: The Blood of Hussain, Towers of Silence, Kika Markham, Vanessa Redgrave, Jamil Dehlavi

Duration: 4 minutes, 25 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008