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The Clown: The cast and dinner with Heinrich Böll


The Clown: Shooting, lighting and the story
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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We started in Bonn and we did the big villa there and the flat which... in the story the flat's been given to him by his dad, which is supposed to be in Bonn, was actually in Munich. For various reasons it was more convenient. The production company, I think, was based in Munich, something like that. So, we worked for a while in Bonn and then we worked... Cologne and Bonn and then we worked in Munich. And in Munich I was able to use the first HMI lights which the... my colleague and friend, Jost Vacano, who was a bit of a gadgeteer, he had developed them himself. He had adapted a flat-fronted quartz light to take an HMI bulb, because the actual bulb was quite small. I had worked with the forerunner of the HMI light, I already described this, I think, for on Blood of Hussain and on Something for Everyone, which I didn't describe at that point. But Something for Everyone we... the scenes in the... it's called the Sängersaal, the Singer's Hall, at the very top of the castle. That was actually lit entirely with these Arri Suns which was the precursor of the HMI. Because the HMI came out in about 74/75. And Jost Vacano had made his own. As soon as the bulbs were available he designed his own lamp by adapting one of these quartz lights, and they were the smallest HMIs I've ever worked with. Because when they were commercially produced all kinds of safety regulations were put in place. It had to have a thick glass in front and all sorts of other things. So I never had the chance, again, to work with such small, really small, HMIs, but they were very, very convenient because you could fix them up, say, on the curtain rail and shine them at the ceiling. Most of my work with HMIs has been using them in the reflective mode, nearly all the time. Usually a mixture, but nearly all the time. The principal lighting was used in the reflective mode and I used to use HMIs to light all my day interiors.

But, in that particular film, the things I did in Cologne, the lamps weren't available yet, to me. I hadn't heard about them. That was lit in the conventional way with orange filters on the windows and tungsten lights inside, or no orange filters on the windows and blue in front of the tungsten lights, which is not a very efficient way of going about it. Work with Vojtech was very pleasant. He's a lovely man. He's very gentle, very quiet. But very talented and very efficient. Well, efficient within that... I wouldn't say he was the most efficient director in terms of time, but he was perfectly, perfectly okay. The film was made in something like eight weeks. I think we had something like eight weeks which was perfectly adequate. Heinrich Böll came to visit the set a couple of times. And when Helmut Griem, who played the clown, asked him advice, Heinrich used to say, 'Look, don't ask me because this book, to me it's somewhere in the past, it's what you English call old hat', he said. In fact, that was painfully true because by the time that film was made, the subject was a bit old hat. The subject is about the Catholic community just after the war and the clash, possibly, between the Catholic aspect and other aspects in Helmut's character, where he goes back to his family who he's been separated from, really for some time. They don't approve of him at all. And it leads to the breakup of his relationship with his girlfriend. All very nicely done.

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: Blood of Hussain, Something for Everyone, Jost Vacano, Helmut Griem, Vojtech Jasny

Duration: 4 minutes

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008