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Savages: some lovely dialogue and money problems

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Savages: shooting
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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Anyway, the shooting of "Savages" took place in this house, in and around this house. And the opening sequence is in, what seems to be, a jungle nearby, which is actually a New England wood nearby. I suggested to James that we should make it in three parts. That it should open in black and white, then go into sepia, as they discover the house, and then go into colour. And it's like that. He accepted that idea, and that was nice- that was a good idea, I think, aesthetically as well as practically. Because to make a New England wood appear like a jungle, tropical jungle, is much easier in black and white than it would be in colour. I think you'd be more aware that the nature of the plants isn't what it should be. But we got away with that beautifully, and I decided to shoot that in a slightly overexposed way. So you have this very hot sunlight filtering through the branches, but only just. And I dug up the only remaining rolls, in the country, of a Kodak film material, a negative, which had already been suspended. It was discontinued. It was called Panatomic X, and it existed- for some time after that it existed as stills film. In fact, as movie film it had a different name. But they discontinued it. I dug up some rolls of this, because that film, like the Ilford, what's it called, the Ilford one is called Pan F, the Ilford Pan F, and that film had a lot in common. They were the same speed, 16, 16 to daylight and they had beautiful highlight detail, so it was very suitable for this jungle atmosphere with the overexposed sunlight filtering through the trees. And then you have this- so you have this tribe of people marching through the jungle, processing through the jungle, and they find a girl, who is a member of another tribe and they capture her. And then they discover the house. But this whole first section is- was edited by James in a way that looks like a silent movie, and it was intercollated with silent movie-style inter-titles, not subtitles, but inter-titles, like in a silent movie. And- so it says something- When they capture this girl it says something like, a member of another tribe, possibly a seed masher, something like that. There's one or two bits of that which I found a little- a little, tiny bit pretentious, but okay, it's no big deal. Anyway, they're on their way to the sacrifice where it explains that the queen takes a new consort every year, and the old consort has to die, so he's taken to a particular place of sacrifice and a great big boulder is dropped on his head, and that's that. And they're on their way to that and he's tied up to this tree and the boulder is raised, and in that moment, suddenly a croquet ball appears in the landscape. And I believe there are three coloured shots- there're three shots in colour of this croquet ball, slow motion, slowly descending on the landscape, then falling to the ground in front of the high priestess, who later becomes the hostess of the dinner party. And- and she picks up this croquet ball and there's this title which says, in the jungle where perfect spheres are unknown, the arrival of the croquet ball causes a bit of a stir, something like that. So she picks up the croquet ball, and the croquet ball seems to want to pull her, to lead her somewhere. So she follows the lead and they discover the house. Then at the moment- The house has a heavy wooden front door with two parts, two wings, and its all covered in cobwebs. And at the moment when they push the door, and the two wings of the door open, and from that moment on we go into sepia. And then the first section, as they roam through the house and discover all these props, all the masks and dolls and clothes, and God knows what, spectacles; there were lots of different spectacles. And they put them on and they- gradually they doff them. They break- the masks are broken and there's quite a nice shot where the high priestess, sort of, hits herself on the forehead and the mask cracks, and she peels it off. Then there's a certain amount of split-screen work, which is done in the editing, where there's a multiple image on the screen. That's one of the multiple images where they all peel off their masks, and become- slowly become civilised. And then, then it goes into colour. It's divided into chapters which are headed with inter-titles. There's one inter-title which says, the dinner party. By that time they've really developed quite a bit. They've become fairly civilised and they give dinner parties. And that in itself was quite interesting to shoot. Not easy, because I only had an Elemak and a jib arm which is like a primitive crane. A very small primitive crane. And I was operating myself and there's a shot in there which was quite tricky to execute, where the croquet ball, which they've placed on the base of a statue they find in one of the rooms, as a sort of religious shrine. Some of the savages are more religious than others. When they're asked to come to the sacrifice, some just sort of say, none of that. So this croquet ball mysteriously jumps off its pedestal, and rolls down through the hallway and down the stairs, into the dining room. And everything, kind of, stops. There's a sort of frozen moment. I had to do a shot following croquet ball along the floor and then panning and tilting off it and across all the faces. Across the backs of the people on the dining table on one side, looking at them on the other. They're all, kind of, frozen there. There's a frozen moment. And I remember that being quite a difficult- quite a difficult shot, because that type of jib arm, you can't sit on it, you have to operate it and as it- it has two swinging motions, which are independent of each other. You can pan and tilt the camera on its head, but you can also tilt and raise and lower the jib arm. And I had somebody operating that, as one does, but it's a tricky bit of co-ordination to get that right.

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.

Duration: 6 minutes, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008