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The Wild Party: Raquel Welch


Autobiography of a Princess
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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The next movie I made with Merchant Ivory was Autobiography of a Princess, which was a semi-documentary, because Ismail Merchant had found... he was a good friend of the Maharaja of Jodhpur, and he'd found, in the archives, a lot of footage. The Maharaja of Jodhpur, the father of the present Maharaja, had a German cameraman who was part of the palace staff, and he shot a lot of footage of Durbars and pig-sticking and elephant hunts, and God knows what. And all this stuff was lying in the cellar in the palace in Jodhpur.

Ismail came across it and had a look at it and he decided that this could form the basis of another movie. He wrote... Ruth Prawer Jhabvala wrote... their regular scriptwriter, wrote a framing story in which this daughter of this Maharaja is living in London in a little flat in Notting Hill Gate, which was very conveniently across the road from where I was living. And she invites to an annual... there's an annual event where she invites her father's old tutor to have tea or lunch... no, tea, to invite them to tea. This is a sort of annual ritual that happens. And they set up a projector, in readiness for his visit, and they run this material, and he remembers how it all was, because this material was filmed when he was the tutor for the maharaja, for her father. And he was played by James Mason. So this was a little vignette. All the shooting that we actually did was done in a week, or maybe it was 10 days, in this little flat in Notting Hill Gate, and Madhur Jaffrey who played the princess, with whom I worked three or four times, had this magnificent jewellery on her, which was completely real. There were two security guards on the set all the time, because she was wearing something like a million pounds worth of real jewellery. Which, of course, in a film, paste would be just as good. But Ismail does things like that. Then he can write an article through the local newspaper and say, you know, she's wearing real jewellery, which he managed to borrow. It was amazing the things Ismail managed to do. And we had a very pleasant week's filming with James Mason. That all went extremely well and he played that beautifully. A really beautifully judged performance.

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: Autobiography of a Princess, Merchant Ivory, Ismail Merchant, James Ivory, James Mason, Maharaja, Madhur Jaffrey

Duration: 2 minutes, 25 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008