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Savages: Ismail Merchant and James Ivory


Adventures of a Brown Man in Search of Civilisation
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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I first met Ismail Merchant and James Ivory on the stage of the London Coliseum where the BFI, the British Film Institute, used to hold an annual Christmas party. That year they held it on the stage of the Coliseum. I was aware of their work, which up to that time comprised some four movies. The best one of which, or the best known, of which is Shakespeare Wallah of course. And, we had a chat and there was a lot of people there, so it didn't lead to anything immediately. But we established contact. And very shortly afterwards they asked me if I would like to make a documentary for... like to make a documentary with them. And, because by that time I was an established cinematographer, so people like Merchant Ivory and some others, they were a bit reluctant to ask because they thought they're not in my league, you know. They can't pay the sort of salary that they imagined I was getting, which wasn't necessarily the truth. But, I've always put it about the lot of, please don't hesitate to ask, because, generally speaking, I don't... I'm not a stickler for getting my... the salary that I got on the last big feature. So we got together and they proposed me the subject of... which was finally called Adventures of a Brown Man in Search of Civilisation, which is the... nice title. Which is the... It's a study of the Indian poet and writer, Nirad Chaudhuri who was, by then, close to 90. I think he lived to a hundred and something, subsequently. And he was a neat dresser and a little gentleman who had studied in Oxford and who was living, currently, in Oxford. And we went to Oxford and we did some interviews with him and we showed him going about his business and giving dinner parties, and generally going about... getting on with his life. That was made, I believe, for the BBC, I'm not sure. It was a television film; it was made on 16 mm. That then was the beginning of my 20-year-long collaboration with Merchant Ivory.

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: Shakespeare Wallah, Adventures of a Brown Man in Search of Civilisation, Ismail Merchant, James Ivory, Nirad Chaudhuri

Duration: 2 minutes, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008