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Heat and Dust: The cast and Ismail Merchant's production technique


Heat and Dust had a different feel to other Pinewood films
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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It occurred to me, both during the preparation and making of the film, and a lot of times afterwards, that there's a very significant difference between the look of Heat and Dust and the look of, say, Ghandi or Jewel in the Crown, because Ghandi and Jewel in the Crown are, to my mind, Pinewood films made on location. Their technique consists in going to an area, taking all the natural people out, all the inhabitants out of it, roping it off, filling it with their own extras. So it's like the film shot on the back lot at Pinewood. And it doesn't have at all the same atmosphere that Heat and Dust had. Where we very frequently filmed in the... well, quite frequently filmed in the bazaars and in the streets, in Hyderabad and elsewhere.

I used my technique again, of having the Arriflex behind my back and saying, 'Look, you stand there', you know, 'you hide round the corner there', because a white face is enough to cause a crowd, particularly if it's Julie Christie, let alone if it's Julie Christie. So I'd used that same technique, say, 'Look, I will come to this point here and you come to that point there, and when you see me putting the camera to my eye, you start your action'.

And we did some tracking shots through the bazaar there, with... all the people that you see are the people who are actually there. They're not extras. You get one or two people looking at the camera, but it's not impossible at all. It gives it a very natural feeling. And it's a hand-held tracking shot, it worked perfectly well. And then there's another shot in the bazaar, treated in a slightly different way, where the landlord and Julie are walking through the bazaar and we were in a rickshaw. We were hidden in a rickshaw, and tracking ahead of them, and simultaneously it was covered with a long lens from a window at the back. And that, again, that worked very well. But you can only do it once, then the crowd gather so you have to pretend that you're finished, even if you haven't finished, and go away and do something else, and then two hours later you can do it again. But you can't work all day. You have to plan it carefully, very meticulously, and you... basically you can only do it once, so you have to be very well prepared and, hopefully, you can get it done. But the separation into... by the style of the photography in the '20s and '80s sections, that worked very well. To my mind, when I see that film now, that worked extremely well, without having any crude separation method, like the use or not use of a certain filter.

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: Heat and Dust, Ghandi, Jewel in the Crown, Hyderabad, Julie Christie

Duration: 2 minutes, 37 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008