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Heat and Dust: Lighting equipment and techniques


Hullabaloo over Georgie and Bonnie's pictures
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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The next Merchant Ivory film was called "Hullabaloo Over Georgie and Bonnie's Pictures", and we couldn't persuade James that that wasn't a very good title. So it stuck. That was made in India on 16mm and it was financed by the South Bank Show, which was a British Television show directed by Melvyn Bragg. James became friendly with Melvyn and they arranged it. It was actually made in such a way that it could be shown on two separate Sundays or Saturdays- it could be shown on two separate Saturdays as part of the South Bank Show. There was the first part of dramatic action and the second part of dramatic action and the link between the two were the pictures, which are mentioned in the title, which are actually Indian miniatures. The whole thing is written around these Indian miniatures and their discovery and their sale, and Peggy Ashcroft plays an English dealer who is interested in them. There's- Larry Pine plays an American dealer. There's a lot of competition, they're trying to get their hands on these miniatures which have never been seen in public, or not for a long time. That's basically the plot of the film. When the unions at London Weekend Television, which was the home of- when the unions at London Weekend Television, which is the home of the South Bank Show, discovered that this film was being made, and it was a location job, which they considered to be a bonus, and they weren't going to get any of the action, they were absolutely furious, but they couldn't do anything about it. Ismail, again, very cleverly outmanoeuvred all that. And then once it had been shown on television, on those two separate Saturdays, they just joined it up in the middle and it became a feature. And lo and behold. Very clever. But it's a nice movie and it was my second film with Peggy Ashcroft, who had quite a- she had quite a lot of trouble adapting to the Third World. I think it was her first experience of the Third World. And getting stuck in a taxi in the middle of Jodhpur with one-eyed beggars sticking their leprosied arms in the window for alms, that was not very- she didn't react to that very well. But she coped with it and it was okay in the end. And we filmed in the beautiful Jodhpur Palace. We were also living there. It was all fairly simple with limited means, and sometimes we were a bit short of lighting facilities. Because there were some quite big interiors in there, on not very fast material. The Eastman colour of that time wasn't very fast. So at times I was a bit stretched. And there were also frequent power cuts. Very frequent power cuts. I remember there's one scene in that film which is an interior, but because of power cuts, it's lit entirely through the windows with reflectors. But it worked. And- For that film, we had to more or less smuggle in the equipment because it was made at a point in time when Louis Malle had just made his Indian film, Louis Malle's India, and the Indian authorities went mad because they thought that he showed all the things about India that they weren't very keen on. And from that moment on, if you just mentioned the word television, you got thrown out immediately, without any further questions being asked. So Ismail said- no, it'll be all right, I'll be there at the airport. We had to go in through Bombay, although we were shooting near Delhi, in Rajahsthan, which is much nearer Delhi. But he said- no, in Bombay I know the people in the airport there and I'll be there to help you through the airport. And, of course, when they actually came to it, he wasn't very much help. He was just shouting encouragement from across the barrier, but Kate coped with all that. She simply said- I'm making a personal film for the Maharaja of Jodhpur and this is my private equipment, my personal equipment, it's not a public film, it's a private film being made for the maharaja. And she got away with it. They more or less swallowed that. Then we had a long train journey from Bombay to Rajahstan because it's a long way away. And when the film was finished and she had to take the material out, it was largely- again, because there's a rule in India that you can't export any film shot in India unless some government representative was present during the shooting. And we didn't have anybody present during the shooting, so again, it was Kate who smuggled the negative out, among her underwear. But it all worked in the end. The film was successfully completed. You mentioned something about the camera overheating and something about a man with a key. Right. At the end- the film was made between February and April and towards the end, in the first few days of April, it got very, very hot and the camera reacted badly. The camera jammed, in fact, and wouldn't run. And we had to take it indoors and lay ice packs all over it in order for it to cool down sufficiently to operate again. And we only just managed to finish it. It became- it caused more and more frequent breakdowns because the heat was getting to the camera. We were using an Éclair NPR which normally functions perfectly well, but in those hot conditions it didn't function very well. And- and also, a similar thing happened there to the- we having to pay a bribe for the last batch of rushes, but instead of that, we were shooting. Some of the last shooting we did was on the Royal Train. The last time we came do the- finish the shooting on the Royal Train, suddenly the man with the key wasn't there. I said, - the man with the key. Where is he? Well, he's gone on holiday. But again, it was just a matter paying the requisite bribe, then he returned from holiday and we could finish the film.

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, 12 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008