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Twinkie: The fixer


Twinkie: Richard Donner's obsessions
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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In the early part of that movie, like I said, it was shot in two flats, one overlooking the Thames and the other overlooking the East River, and Richard Donner had a... he had a number of obsessions. One of his obsessions was with boats, which had nothing to do with the film. Just... the flats just happened to overlook the river. So I got pretty pissed off, if I may use that phrase, when he said things like, right in the middle of something. We're right in the middle of something and then suddenly he says, 'Quick, work quick, Walter, there's a boat'. After a while I, sort of, said, 'Well, so what!' But he always did that.

And then he had this other habit. He wanted to... none of the scenes started straight, straightforwardly. He says, 'Right, we zoom in through the window into something on the outside, like the Brooklyn Bridge, in the case of the... and then we zoom back and we find ourselves in the flat'. Now why, why would you do that? Or where... There's a scene in a telephone box where he says, 'Right, we zoom through the telephone box onto a street... a traffic light. So the scene starts with a traffic light and then you zoom back and you find you're in a telephone box'. And I got pretty irritated with that and I said, 'This is really not a good idea'. But okay. I had an operator, Vernon Leyton, for that film, and I left it. I said, 'Okay, if you want to do that, you arrange it with Vernon, I couldn't care less'. I lit the scene and I, kind of, sat down and watched it all happen. Right at the beginning, of course, we had a long testing session, where... to find the schoolgirl. We tested dozens and dozens of girls, and finally ended up with Susan George, who did a very good job, although theoretically she's at least 10 years too old, but it was supposed to be a sort of Lolita, really. But she did a good job. She's a pretty believable schoolgirl, if you suspend disbelief just slightly.

And then there were some other things. There was an occasion when Charlie is sitting there; he's a writer, you see, so he's sitting there at his typewriter going, and then he said to me... it was quite warm, he said to us... the crew, at one point, he said, 'Can I take my shirt off?' I said, 'No, no, you mustn't do that'. If he's sitting there going like that, and he also has a hairy chest, he's sitting there with a hairy chest, nobody's going to believe that he's a writer. It's difficult enough in the first place. But he was a... he was a charming man, Charlie. He took us to lunch several times. It's just that I could never understand how people like Charlie Bronson, and Anthony Quinn can panic at some slight thing when they're asked to do something slightly out of the ordinary, or even something completely ordinary, like kissing your mother and father when you... when you arrive after seven years absence. But they just panic, they're 'oh, I don't know about that, you know'. Then they have to be comforted and talked into it and mollified. It's always struck me as very strange that somebody who's made as many movies as they have, that they should be so unsure of themselves, but they're not the only ones, by any means. It's a very common phenomenon with people... with stars who've done many pictures.

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: Twinkie, Richard Donner, Vernon Leyton, Anthony Quinn

Duration: 3 minutes, 21 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008