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Shooting 'A Taste of Honey' on location

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A Taste of Honey: film stock and lighting
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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For "Taste of Honey", we made some quite interesting key decisions. The new Ilford film material called, at that time, HPS, which was 400 ASA, had just come out. Well it'd come out- I'd used it on- on "Everyday Except Christmas" and a little bit of the early experimental version on "Another Sky". So the new Ilford HPS material was freely available now and the strategy for "Taste of Honey" was that we would use three different film stocks. We would use HPS, the very sensitive but very grainy film stock for the first flat that the heroine and her mother stay in, and, then we would use the very much less sensitive, but more fine-grained FP3, it was in those days. That was the equivalent of Plus-X, which was 80 ASA to daylight, and we used that for the exteriors. And we used yet another material, which was in between the other two, which was then called HP3, which is still available and is now called HP5, I believe. And which was a sort of intermediate material. It had a finer grain than- than HPS, but not as fine a grain as- as FP3. But by linking the film stock to the particular sets, or d├ęcors, we made the granularity of the film stock be part of the art direction. Now that was something quite unheard of. Nobody had ever done that before. And the labs of course they all advised me against it, and so I said- well never mind we're going to do that, and you'll see it'll be okay. And it was okay in the end. And they said- well you can't inter-cut those things. I said, we're not going to inter-cut them in- inside an indi- individual scene, we're going to- when we cut from a scene inside to a scene outside, at that cut, there's absolutely no reason why you shouldn't change film stock. It- it- will pass completely without notice. And that proved to be the case, of course. So, the beginning of "Taste of Honey" is filmed on 400 ASA which enabled us to work with very small lights and very few lights, used mainly by reflection, as reflected light. Like in that first flat where- where Doris lives with- I was going to say Doris Day, what's her name? Jo Yes, but what is the actress' name? Rita Tushingham No, the other one? Dora Bryan Dora Bryan, yes. So in the first flat where Dora Bryan lives with Rita Tushingham, which was supposed to be a bit of a slum, we had a rather dreary wallpaper and we used this very grainy stock. And we had- in the bedroom we had one light reflecting off the ceiling in one place, and another little light, just a 500 watt- spot photo flood, you know, a flat-fronted photo flood was used reflect- in reflected light mode. And in one case there is an additional direct light only when there's some drawings being shown, which didn't catch the reflected light properly, so I- I put an additional little spot in. But most of that scene, most of the scenes, all the scenes, in fact, in that flat, both day scenes and night scenes, are shot at an aperture of F2.8 at a level of something like 20-25 ft candles. So very, very low light level indeed. And the other interesting f- feature of the HPS stock was that normally, as a stock increases in sensitivity, it also loses contrast. So if you- if you compare, for instance, the two equivalent Ko- Kodak stocks, Plus-X and Double-X, you find that Double-X is softer. It has less contrast. It's twice the speed of Plus-X, but it has less contrast. So Double-X requires a- a healthy strong studio-type lighting, whereas HPS didn't. HPS- you could light very softly with HPS and still maintain a minimum of contrast, which, of course, in black and white, is absolutely essential. Colour has the ability to cope with very flat lighting conditions, because the colour makes up the difference. But if you- if you use very flat light, or predominantly reflected light in black and white, you run the risk of the whole image turning muddy, because black and white requires a minimum of contrast in order to be viable. And HPS had this built-in quality that it was- it went against the rule, and although it was a very sensitive stock, it had quite a degree of built-in contrast, which enabled you to light with- with reflected light, which you could not have done with Double-X. Double-X had a quite a different characteristic. And anyway, I tended to prefer the Ilford stocks. Although Plus-X is a- Plus-X is a perfectly reasonable film, and the HPE- and the FP3 equivalent was very similar to- to Plus-X. It- it was in the other regions, in the- in the sensitive stock regions, in the very, very sensitive stock regions where- where Ilford had a considerable advantage.

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, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008