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Film and video
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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I've often taught students... told students when I was teaching film, that, to my mind, the similarities between the film medium and the television medium far, far, outweigh the differences. I think get that firmly fixed in your head. That the other thing that I say is, when you're looking through a camera, it's the eye behind the viewfinder that counts. It doesn't count... it doesn't matter whether you're looking through a film camera, a video camera, what sort of film you have in the camera. Of course, you must understand your medium, you must know what you're working with. You don't need to be an electronics experts to operate a video camera, but you must know enough about it to operate it efficiently. But the thing that really counts is to develop the facility to see, which I'll come back to when I talk about film schools. So I've always said that the similarities far outweigh the differences. And nowadays I am very happy with video. I'm very happy to work with video. Unlike my colleagues, I think the attitude that there's something special about the quality of 35 mm film. It isn't true anymore. I regret to say it isn't true anymore. There are many, many of my colleagues, with whom I disagree fundamentally on that point.

Certainly from 1992 onwards, 1992 I think was... I did two things in 92. I attended a conference about high-definition television in Dublin where, by the way, I met George's son, who was attending that conference, and that put me back in contact with George, with whom I'd lost contact with, almost. Slightly later... Somewhat later, probably around 94/95, there was a demonstration at BAFTA in London where they had a setup to show high-definition television and project 35mm side by side. And they'd made some tests in Hollywood where they had an actor walking through a set, which was, in some cases, like four stops over, and in other places it was three stops under. And he walked through this set and they filmed it with a high-definition television camera linked to a Panavision camera, 35. And then they transferred the film to video and the video to film, and they re-showed it simultaneously, and there was virtually no difference. In 1994, let's say, 94/95, the only difference then was that, at that time, video was not able to cope with fine highlight detail. Like I talked about in the clouds in Zorba the Greek. There is a fine highlight detail there, because I chose that very sensitive, very insensitive but very detailed Ilford film. So video has a cut-off point. Most video cameras have a cut-off point. If the light gets too bright they cut out, because it might damage the electronics otherwise. But other than that, there was no difference. So whenever somebody comes to me and says, 'No, no, no, there's this imperceptible something', I say, 'Yes, but I'm afraid to say that is largely in your mind'.

And also with film and television, the other thing that I point out, is that television gets the blame for a lot of things which are nothing to do with the television medium, as such. They're to do with the idiots that operate it. Nothing to do with the medium, at all. The medium is not responsible. So I say to them, look... I said to them, say, in the mid-'90s, I said to them, 'Look, what's actually happening here is, the cinema screens are getting smaller and the television screens are getting larger, and very soon they're going to meet in the middle, and this debate will become academic, totally academic'. Which has now happened. I think we're now in a situation where, within some... in my opinion, within something like five years, you will not see a foot of film shown in cinemas anymore, other than specialist things like IMAX and Show-scan and the big screen stuff, which is not cinema, that is bread and circuses. So, if my prediction is correct, there will not be... you will not be seeing films. They will all turn into video cinemas. You will have somebody pushing a button in, say, New York, and your film will appear simultaneously, if you wish, in 3,000 different cinemas, in 20 different countries, or staggered, or what-have-you. And no intelligent person will be able to tell the difference between what... now there is a difference. But there won't be a difference, very shortly. And after all, if you think the whole thing through, the pure video process... in making images through video, what we're talking about, is photons being turned into electrons, and back into photons. That is a very pure process. Much purer, much purer than going via the chemical detour. Because the chemistry needed to separate red, green and blue, is not perfect. It's nothing like perfect. There's an overlap, but it's very imperfect. So to go through this chemical process, on the way to an optical process... you know, you start with light entering a lens and you finish off with light coming out of a lens onto a screen. But in between you go through an extremely clever, but very complicated, chemical process, which is all about compromise. It's all about compromise. That chemical process is all about compromise. And it's a small miracle that it's as good as it is. But the purely video process, photons, electrons into photons, is a much purer process. So once they get the remaining little niggles ironed out, there's no doubt in my mind that video's the future.

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.

Duration: 5 minutes, 41 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008