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The Ballad of the Sad café: Problems on the set


The Deceivers: Problems on set
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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We had a lot of problems shooting The Deceivers, a lot of which were caused by this lack of co-ordination between the Merchant Ivory element and the Pinewood element. Because Nick Meyer insisted on shooting in the town of Jaipur, which was under the control of a, sort of, the Indian Mafia, and Ismail said, 'I wouldn't do that because I have no way of influencing them, dealing with them. Why don't you shoot it in Jodhpur?' 'No, we want to go there. The first night we had trouble'.

The first night we'd set a night scene and it couldn't go ahead because the local mafia hadn't been placated and the people refused to erect the camp... the tents, or something. Anyway, there was continuous trouble all the time, because the local mafia hadn't been paid off, as it were, which is always necessary. And, it culminated in trouble with the authorities, that the man who's supposed to watch all the shooting to make sure that nothing derogatory to India is put in, he wasn't always there. And then one day the police arrived and there was a ludicrous scene where the police went in the back door... in the front door and somebody carrying the rushes went in... out the back door and escaped over the roof of... something ridiculous like that happened. But there was trouble all the time.

And for me, the biggest trouble arose on a night scene... near the finale of the picture you have a night scene where they... the... all the loot is being carried to the place where they can sell the diamonds and the loot that they gather, these Thuggies gather, in the course of their murderous activities. And they go to a certain market in a village and they sell all their stuff to the diamond dealers and the jewellery dealers, and so on. And Ken Adam had decided that he would string wires between the houses and he would hang lampions, so the whole set was covered in these... was surmounted by these 30, 40 lampions which were lit with low bulbs, like they had candles in them. That was difficult... already difficult because I had to light... I had to use the rooftops as well, of the existing houses, in order to position my lights. That's the only place I could've put the lights, and I had to light between these strings of hanging lampions. So that was difficult.

But then, it became impossible, because a wind sprang up and the lampions started swaying, you see, and getting into the lights, of course, and casting enormous shadows. So we finished that scene by the skin of our teeth. So I wasn't very pleased with Ken Adams, who had a lot of experience. But if you were working in Pinewood Studios, the cameraman and Ken Adam would have had certain discussions, and he would've said: yes, I want this, that and the other... And there would always be backup and there would be a way out.

But working in... at that time we were in Khajurao. We were based in Khajurao, where the famous erotic sculpture is, and we were a long, long way from any backup, and communication with the labs was difficult, as always. And... and to deal with things like that under those circumstances is extremely difficult, extremely difficult. So that caused me a lot of headaches. But the bulk of the film wasn't too difficult to make and it was quite exciting and quite... There's some wonderful locations. On the river there... there's some lovely stuff in that film. But a lot of that stuff was cut in the final version. There's a lovely scene where a sandstorm comes up. A lot of that got lost. Basically, the worst thing was that the re-cut, even the final final re-cut, undermined the Pierce Brosnan character, the hero, to such an extent that he was, sort of, in limbo. The preview cards had said, 'We don't like the wife'. So he cut out a lot of the wife, so the poor man is, kind of, left floating in limbo. All his relationship, which placed him in a certain situation, with a wife and then the Indians he has to deal with, that all became very tentative, because certain key elements had been cut out because the preview card said that they don't like the wife. She wasn't very good, but she was adequate. You know, she was perfectly all right, in context. But the final result, of course, was much worse than it could've been.

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: The Deceivers, Pinewood Studios, Khajurao, Nick Meyer, Ken Adam, Pierce Brosnan

Duration: 4 minutes, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008