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Difficulties finding work


How I became someone's 'pupil'
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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So we had this school hall available. And by carefully using the fixtures, like in one corner there was a stove like this one, and in another corner there was a sink. And by carefully choosing our angles, we had a table in the middle and we made these various angles appear like it was all a relatively small rectangular room, but it was actually different pieces of a large hall. But that was quite interesting and I wrote an article about how that was done... how that was planned and which was published in the Amateur Cine World, which is one of the first articles I ever wrote. Then I continued writing articles throughout my career, for various journals.

Anyway, that film, which was silent, was a mute, a silent film, which ran 15 minutes, I think. Many years later it became an extraordinary document that I was summoned, more or less, to the Imperial War Museum to talk about that film. And then the BBC asked to... use a piece of it, like 26 seconds of it, I think, where he's walking through the East End of London. He's walking through Stepney, he's at Aldgate somewhere, with the bombed out buildings behind him. And years later they kept asking for this material. It was the only material that existed of London in those days, which I can't believe. But only the other day I got a cheque for £400 for the BBC extending their right to use this footage for another 10 years, non-theatrically, 26 seconds of a silent film made on 16mm, in 1946. It's turned into a gold mine.

But the first showing of that film... that was also very interesting. When it was finished we showed it at the annual viewing session of the Federation of Film Societies, which once a year they had a viewing session where all the secretaries of the film societies came to London, and they sat through films all day and all night it went on forever. Two days, I think, almost continuously, where they could see all the latest French and Italian, whatever was available from the distributors. And it was shown at that session and it was recommended, afterwards, there was a programme it was recommended in this I can't remember, in some journal. It might have been, again, The Amateur Cine World, and it says: this is a very, very interesting little film, but it must be remembered that it's strong propaganda for the illegal practice of squatting. And then, when people applauded that film, a gentleman called Mr Cotterell got up. Now, Mr Cotterell was the Secretary, I believe, of the Leicester Film Society, and he got up and he said, in a fairly kind of hoi-polloi accent, he said, 'I'm glad you liked that one. Mr Lassally is a pupil of mine'. Now, this wasn't exactly true, because the only contact we'd had... he was also a mountain climber, and in the summer previously, I had gone on an expedition with him up Snowdon, climbing Snowdon, which was organised by the British Film Institute used to run things called a Summer School, and as part of the Summer School, I went climbing with him. That was the only contact we had. In the movie... in that screening he took credit for 'he's a pupil of mine'. So, ever since then, I'd be very careful, after my stint in the National Film School and all that, I always think of that incident when I say, 'Oh, yes he was a pupil of mine'. So I'm very careful not to say that too often, not to take the credit for somebody else's work, because he was a pupil of mine.

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: London, BBC, Snowdon

Duration: 3 minutes, 47 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008