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Visiting the flat where I grew up


The Magic Mountain: Getting fired
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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There was another instance where we'd shot the scene of... the hero's best friend is dying. And, he played it beautifully, and I'd been asked... and it's a hospital room and there's a little table lamp on next to the bed. And the friend... so the dying friend is lying in the bed and the hero is sitting in an armchair some six to eight feet away from the end of the bed. So I put a little spotlight on the hero's face, from sort of the angle that the... it's called extending the light into the distance. Because normal light sources like table lamps don't throw the light any distance, they don't produce any light further than about a foot away. So that's a perfectly normal technique. We went to see the rushes and this guy, who'd just played his death scene beautifully, had to sit there while Geissendörfer discussed with me, for an hour at least, whether the scene really looks... really looks as though there is only this one lamp on in the room. He just became impossible. And the climax of all this is the ridiculous duel in the snow, which is the only piece of action in the whole movie, as far as I can see. Where... they chose to play this duel, to stage this duel, in a field, which is covered to a depth of approximately three and a half feet in snow. So I have to act this out, which I can't do in this circle. So there you have these two people standing back to back with their pistols, and then they start walking, and they go like this, through the snow. And this is supposed to be a dramatic moment, not a comic climax. It's absolutely ridiculous.

And then there was a scene where... everybody was playing in their own language. Rod Steiger was speaking English and Marie-France Pisier was speaking French, there was an Italian actor who was speaking Italian and it was all going to be dubbed into the respective languages at the end. But Charles Aznavour, for some reason I never discovered, was playing in English. And he was walking up and down in this... outside this snowfield studying, you know, repeating his text. There was a mistake, there was a typo in the text, where two words were transposed, and he kept rehearsing it with these two words transposed. And nobody corrected him, because there weren't any native English speakers there. And I didn't correct him because I'd be very interested to see if that goes right through to the final version. Because this is a ridiculous way of going about things. Well, I never got that far because, after four weeks or so, I got fired.

At the point were we moved to Berlin, I'd shot for four weeks in Switzerland and in Montreux and surroundings, and in Interlaken, I did quite a lot of stuff, and then we were due to move to Berlin where the previous team, Geissendörfer and Muller, had prepared the studio, had built the set of the interior of the sanatorium, they'd built in a studio in Berlin. And they had decided that it was basically a TV studio so it had all these hanging lamps, which you could move along rails, and put in any position. They shifted all the lamps down... they'd run them down the rails right... like parked them at the end of the stage, and they were going to use, again, something like the available light technique, and I said, 'I'm not going to do it that way', because first of all, what's the point of doing something that you know your producer won't accept. There has to be some agreement. And I also said to him, at one point, when I was getting rather angry, I said, 'Look, you don't hire Renoir if you want your painting to look like a Max Ernst'. So, anyway I got fired. And... they found a way of firing me. This studio... in this studio in Berlin, something happened to me which had never happened to me before, I had an office with my name on the door. And in this office there was a little refrigerator and when I was welcomed to the studio, there was a bunch of flowers and in the refrigerator there was a half a bottle of champagne. But my days in that studio were numbered, less than a week. When I got fired, the name had gone from the door, and the bottle of champagne had gone from the fridge. That's the end of that story.

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 Magic Mountain, Hans Geissendörfer, Robby Muller, Charles Aznavour, Rod Steiger, Marie-France Pisier

Duration: 4 minutes, 31 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008