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Heat and Dust: Going to Kashmir


Heat and Dust: A tricky mirror shot and the editing
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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The shot that I always wished had been the end of the film, is a very, very tricky mirror shot, you could call it. It's looking into a window in Kashmir. This is part of the Kashmir sequence, which forms the end of the movie. And there is one shot in the whole film where Shashi and Greta and Julie Christie are actually in the same shot. It's a shot in the latter period of the relationship between Greta and the maharaja... not the maharaja, the nawab. It's in their latter period where she has this little house in the hills, somewhere in the hills, and he comes to visit her every now and then, and there's a piano which you see being delivered, which he's ordered for her. And they're sitting there and she's playing the piano and he's drinking a cup of tea. And, the shot is shot through the window of the little cottage, and reflected in the window are the Himalayas in all their glory, covered in snow, at a brightness of T32, or something. And there inside, lit with lamps right up to the edge of the frame, to try and get some kind of balance.

That was an extremely difficult shot, because then, Julie Christie appears in reflection in the window and they sort of smile at each other. He kind of makes a gesture of smiling at her. And I always wish that that shot had been the end shot of the movie. It should've been. But, it was extremely difficult to achieve, to find an area in which her reflection could appear, without being either over-lit or under-lit. So I placed a tree, there was a tree in the composition somewhere which provided just the piece of darkness within which Julie Christie can appear. That took a lot of preparation and I'm very happy with the result.

But when James came back from America... the film was edited in America and when he came back with what he said was the final cut, just for the post-production sound work, we were horrified. The people who had been in the shooting, like me and Kate and the other people, we were all horrified because the film had all the breathing space knocked out of it. It seemed to be confined to plot, plot, plot, must get on with the story, which went completely against the spirit of the film. And when I asked, 'Why did they do that?'... They'd got the idea in their heads, God knows why. Sometimes people get strange ideas during the editing. They'd got this idea that it shouldn't run over two hours. And by that time, of course, the double feature programme was long gone in the past, and there wasn't any conceivable reason why it shouldn't run over two hours. All right, they didn't want it to run two and a half hours, three hours, but why couldn't it run two hours ten minutes?

It did run two hours four minutes or something, in the end. The final cut, which I persuaded... I and Kate and others, persuaded him to restore certain things which they'd cut out, including some atmospheric scenes, which were leisurely, and which we'd gone to great trouble to get. Because Ismail Merchant, towards the end, he kept saying, 'There's no more money, we've got to get out, we've got to go to Kashmir, it's all ready'. I said, 'Look, Ismail, we have to get certain run-bys, certain scenes of the cars going across the landscape, and I managed to, with great difficulty, to squeeze half a day out of him, where we could do that stuff, before heading off for Kashmir'. Then there was a... So the film was ruined to my mind, and fortunately, we were able to persuade Ismail and Jim that, if certain things were restored to the cut, it would be a much better movie, which it was. Fortunately those things were restored to the cut.

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, James Ivory, Julie Christie, Greta Scacchi, Shashi Kapoor

Duration: 3 minutes, 49 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008