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Free Cinema (Part 2)

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Free Cinema (Part 1)
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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Free Cinema was never really a movement, although later it was described as such, many times. But initially it was just a title that Lindsay Anderson coined for a programme of films which were very different and which were not produced together, they just happened to come together. And, Lindsay coined this phrase, free cinema, and- and there was a manifesto issue- issued, rather a grand title, just a few lines, which was signed- a manifesto was issued and this manifesto was signed by- the- the four directors concerned, Lindsay, Karel- Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson, Lorenza Mazzetti, and by myself and John Fletcher. And, it would be quite interesting to quote- quote from that, I haven't got it in front of me here, but we can have a look at it later. And, so, free cinema was the showing, at the National Film Theatre, in 1956 I think it must've been- 55, 56, of "Momma Don't Allow", "O Dreamland", and "Together", which, as I've already said, were three very different films, made under different circumstances. "O Dreamland" was a little film that Lindsay made on his own, off his own bat. "O Dreamland" was a little film that Lindsay made with his own money and John Fletcher did the photography. At the time when Lindsay and I were together in Margate making the film- "Thursday's Children". So, he got interested in the pleasure fair called Marg- at Margate, called Dreamland, and he made this little film there quite quickly with- with John on camera. And, that was the- it was a- when it was finished it was a 10-minute short, and that was- it was very critical of- of the people in Dreamland. It wasn't a very people-friendly film, you could say. But it was very astute and it shows a very very good picture of Britain in the 50s. And, this was the first in the- in the programme. The second was "Momma Don't Allow" which was a film made under the aegis of the British Film Institute, at that time it was called Experimental Film Fund, later it was called the Production Board, but initially it was called the BFI Experimental Film Fund. They- they provided the money and Tony Richardson and Karel Reisz directed it jointly, but each one took care of a- of a separate section of the film. They never worked together, except in the dance hall which was really, mainly, Tony's thing, but they were both together in the dance hall. But in the sequences of the- with which the film starts, of the participants in the dance hall, each section was directed by either Lindsay or Karel- by either Karel or Tony, separately. And, I say somewhere that "Momma Don't Allow' is a film made with a Bolex and a ladder, because all we had for camera was this spring-wound Bolex, which is a very nice camera and quite professional, but it has a spring motor, so the longest take you can have is 22 seconds. And the ladder- the ladder came in handy, which was just erected among the dancers, and the dancers were instructed to dance around us, like we weren't there. So we were able to get these top shots, of which there's quite a few in- in- in the film. And it was Chris Barber's Jazz Band. And it features- the main dancers are people whose careers we followed- or whose jobs we followed in the introductory section. So we know there- there's four people, I think, who formed a centre group, in the film, two couples. And- we followed them. We see that one is a- one of the girls cleans railway carriages, one is a dentist's assistant, one of the boys is a butcher's assistant, and I forget what the- the fourth one did. Anyway, they were followed in their jobs and then they all come together in this dance hall for a- a weekly rock event. Not- not rock, jazz, traditional jazz. And that film was very successful, not only to my mind, but in the general- that was the general opinion, it was a very successful film. And for years later I used to get cheques for 13/6d because the film actually brought in money. And it couldn't have cost more than about £250 to make. But money kept coming in, in dribs and drabs for- for this film, which- which went on for quite a while and is now a- a real little classic.

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: 4 minutes, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008