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The Iron Angel: A problem with the Ilford film
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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When I was preparing that film I was in Hollywood to make... for a commercial, just for a few days. That's another story. There was a company in America that made commercials and they had planned a commercial with... which was the Pot-scrubber 3, which is a dishwasher. This commercial consisted of a dishwasher and a working surface and another white machine with a tabletop on top, and Debbie Reynolds dances on top of these three machines. In the background there's a huge velvet black background and there's a big electric sign with little light bulbs that says, 'Debbie Introduces the Pot-scrubber 3'. But I was making this commercial in Hollywood, and I was only there a few days. So one of those days I was still pretty jet-lagged. The phone rings at three o'clock in the morning and this voice says, 'The film that you sent us for testing, this black and white film for this... in preparation for Engel aus Eisen, the film you sent us will only run in Russian cameras'. I said, 'This is crazy'. You know, this man is crazy, ringing me up at three o'clock in the morning. They're never conscious of the time difference. Many, many times have I had a phone call and people say, 'Oh, is it three o'clock in the morning? Oh, I'm sorry'. So, I thought, this can't be true.

But it turned out to be true in a very strange way. In a hurry, in London, I had purchased a 50ft role of this particular Ilford negative that I wanted them to test. It turned out that it wasn't a movie roll, it was a bulk-loading stills film. And something else I didn't know, bulk-loading stills film negative has positive perforations. The shape of the perforation, there's a negative shape and a positive shape. This particular negative, for God knows what reason, has positive perforations, so it jammed in the Arriflex which wasn't able to handle it. But the Russian cameras had such huge tolerances they were able to... you could put anything in there. You could probably run sausages through it and it would still... So that turned out to be true. But at first I was... If you can imagine, getting a phone call like that in the middle of night, I was totally mystified.

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: Engel aus Eisen, Debbie Reynolds

Duration: 2 minutes, 20 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008