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Free Cinema: Showing foreign films


Every Day Except Christmas: The other characters
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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Then we have two café sequences where they have a break and they go to a nearby café, because Covent Garden was surrounded by all-night cafés, especially open for the... for the workers, for the market workers. And there were some bars, which were open outside of normal hours, again, for the market workers, as a concession, to work outside of normal pub hours. So there are two café sequences. One is a night sequence and the other one is an early morning sequence, a daytime sequence, but very early morning. And they're both quite interesting in their different ways. The first one was shot mute. And all the... it has no dialogue anyway. There is dialogue but you don't hear it. And... a queer guy comes in, a homosexual, comes in, which we used to call queer in those days, and they, they kind of... you know, the... the burly market workers, sort of go... get him, sort of thing, you know. And he's queening away, and he's brushing his hair, and he's going... 'Hi, hello to you', you know. That's a lovely moment. You see him in the mirror, and it's all done completely mute, but you understand completely what's going on without hearing a word of dialogue. And the radio's playing so in the... in the finished version you have this radio. The proprietor, the café owner fiddles with the radio and some innocuous tune comes on, which is then used as a... a cover for the whole... which covers the whole sequence, but there is no... no word of dialogue.

And in this café, because it's open in the middle of the night, there are some characters who are not market workers. And it says in the commentary, well... who are they, where do they come from? Because they're there almost every night and they're relatively sad people. And one of them turned out to be a busker. I... I saw him... I filmed him, again, quite by accident in some other film, and he turned out to be a busker who... who was playing some instrument along the theatre queues. He was busking the theatre queues. And he was in there nearly every night and there's some sad little old lady, and various people. Like it says, where do they come from? Who are they and where do they come from? So that's a lovely little sequence, very self-contained, quite short, but very... very powerful. And the second café sequence, the daytime café sequence which is part of the early morning bit of the film, was actually shot with synch-sound. We had a blimped camera hidden behind a curtain, and it shot across the counter to the people ordering their food. And... and some very large lady, bit of a gypsy, comes in and... and orders... and a cup of tea, and then she says, 'No sugar!' Like that! You know... And that is quite different from the other sequence, but again, very effective.

And there we had the chance, by having the camera some way back and by being an aesthetic set-up, you could afford to be an aesthetic set-up, which you could not afford to be in the café, in the other café, because you wanted to be free to capture these things. But in that other café, because people have to come up to the counter and order their food there was an opportunity for having a... a set up and they just enter the frame one by one and order their food and then you see in great detail how a bacon sandwich is made, a sausage sandwich, excuse me. How you make a sausage sandwich is documented in great detail, although it happens in about 15 seconds flat. You take the piece of bread, butter the bread and then you cut the sausage in four pieces, and you put it there, and there, and there's your bacon sandwich... there's your sausage sandwich. It all happened very quickly, but very efficiently. And the rest of... the film finishes on the... focussing on the buyers and also on the only woman porter. It says at one time all the porters in... in the flower market, in the flower market, were women, and there's only one left and she's called Alice. And she forms one of the four, sort of, characters that we, that Lindsay focussed on in that film. And then you follow Alice and what she's doing and the various buyers who come in, and, again, that whole sequence is finally constructed in the editing. Because, again, for obvious reasons it had to be shot mute, and... and John was taking sound track separately, and it was then... it was made into a sort of fugue in the... in the... it was orchestrated in the editing, which took months. The editing of that film took months, many months. And Ford was indulgent and there was no... there was no particular pressure, which, again, is very unusual. Certainly in today's terms it's unheard of. The freedom that Lindsay had to make that film... it was supposed to a 20-minute film and it turned out to be a 40-minute film, and he had five months to edit it, and could do what he liked. It's just unheard of freedom. That's why it's called Free Cinema, because it gave... it gave people the freedom to do what they wanted.

And, so the... the final section of the film is all these buyers coming in and taking their... telling the porters where their car is parked, and then the porters put the stuff on their heads, mainly, and they carry it out, and it finishes in the Strand where they get lost in the traffic on the way to... on the way to the vehicle that... that is taking the... the stuff to the shops. And there's also a band that features in that section. So there's always music, there's always something to cover it. You don't miss, not for one moment, in the 40-minute long film, with the commentary, of course, but not for one moment do you miss the absence of... of synch dialogue. There are snatches but you don't miss it because it's been so nicely edited with music, background and... and... and commentary. But the commentary's sparse. The commentary's not... doesn't go on all the time. And the commentary, interestingly enough, is what's dated, what aged. The film is as fresh as it was when it was made, but the commentary is dated, because when you hear the commentary nowadays, it... it sounds patronising, bits of it sound patronising. Sort of, 'This is the world of work and work is something that will always be with us', that sort of... that sort of commentary. But the film itself is very fresh, very fresh indeed. And then it won the Golden Lion, I think, in Venice.

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: bars, cafe, homosexual, busker:Gypsy, porter, buyer, band, dialogue

Duration: 6 minutes, 9 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008