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Keeping the spontaneity in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner


The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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The whole work with Woodfall and Tony Richardson was what I call in my book, a brief honeymoon, because it... the three films, Taste of Honey, Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and Tom Jones, were all made in the space of 18 months. And, when we came to prepare Loneliness... all the spade work really, all that technical stuff, had already been done, for Taste of Honey, so we went into Loneliness... with relatively little preparation, except for the things that were demanded by the subject itself. And, we were based in an old NAAFI facility, an old army facility in Esher and that's what we turned into the... the set for the... for the Borstal, as it were. And, we thought very carefully about the... about the running bit... the bits. Each... each of Tom's... Tom Courtney's runs has a special character. I think there are three of them, or four of them, if you count the final race. And one of them takes place at dawn and it was really... it was actually filmed at dawn, at least in part. And there's a scene on, Blackheath I think it was, somewhere around there, where the sun is just rising, and in the top right hand corner of the pictures, is the setting moon, or is a crescent moon. Some critic wrote something like... what consultation of ephemeredes there must have been to capture that precious moment. Which only goes to show that critics don't know a great deal about how movies are made, because you can't... you can't possibly plan a thing like that. It would take forever, and fall out... well outside your schedule. So that, of course, is a piece of fortuitous luck. But we had two cameras set up, and, one with a wide angle and one with a long focus lens and Tom did his run, parallel to the camera, and across camera, like that. And the... the two cameras followed him. The... the wide angle was almost static because it only needed a little adjustment. But the... the close-up was on a fairly long lens and, in the... in the cutting, it... it's very nice because they long... they use the long shot all the way, except for the actual moment where he crosses the sun- the disk of the sun, then it cuts into big close-up and he runs across the large disk of the rising sun. It's a beautiful shot. But the moon, of course, is... is a piece of luck. And, then there's some very nice misty stuff in the... in some river valley. Again, I can't remember where that was, but it's early morning and there's a mist, which was a real mist, not... not created by us. And that worked out very nicely. But it was, again, one of those... one of those occasions when, in... working in black and white, you have to be very careful because it's... it's a fairly contrast-less subject. It hasn't got much inherent contrast, and with the mist and the... and the grey sky above, there's a danger of it turning muddy. So one has to be very careful that there is always some dark trees or something in... in the frame that gives you a little bit... a little bit of contrast. But that also, that worked out beautifully. And it starts off with a nice shot in the... in the dormitory where he's woken up, or he wakes up by himself at... at pre-dawn, as it were. There's just a little bit of light filtering in through the windows. And then, as he... as he gets out of bed and gets dressed, the... the camera tracks back very slowly, heart in mouth, as it were, timing because it was designed to work in such a way that, while the camera is tracking back, he finishes... he finishes dressing, and by the time he's got into long shot, he runs past camera and out... out of camera. That kind of shot doesn't work every time first time, but I think that... that time it did, because the timing has to be very precise, if you want to do it all... all in... all in one shot. And, it was very nice, of course, working... working with Tom. That was my first experience of working with Tom. Later I worked with him again on one of the Cacoyannis films which was not such a happy experience. But quite recently, jumping forward many years, I was asked to do a programme for, I think it was Channel 4 or Channel 5, which is called Script to Screen, or something like that. Behind the Scenes, one of those titles. And, Tom refused to participate because he said he'd had it up to here about... that film is in the past and he wants it to stay there. He doesn't want people to think that... that... well he wasn't specific, but they've asked him so many times to talk about that movie, which was his second movie, I believe. Billy Liar comes first, I think.

[Q] No.

No? Billy Liar comes second? So that must have been his first one then. Yeah, right. So he didn't want to participate in that programme. And we gathered together all the... all the people that are still alive, which is not that many.

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: Taste of Honey, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Tom Jones, Tony Richardson, Tom Courtnay

Duration: 5 minutes, 20 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008