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Actors in The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner

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Keeping the spontaneity in 'The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner'
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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We had some real Borstal boys for all the extras that Tom Courtnay and James Bolam mixed with quite effortlessly, and the mix was so good that you couldn't- unless you knew that this is an actor and this is an extra and this is a Borstal boy, you- you couldn't tell. The only time you could tell was at lunchtime, because they were absolutely ravenous. It looked like in the Borstal they were never properly fed because they were always looking- if you'd finished your dinner and you'd left something on your- on your plate, they'd say, can I have that? That's the only way you could tell the- the Borstal boys and they- of course they participated with great glee in- in the riot, which was interestingly staged. It's- it's largely improvised. We had one camera that was tracking up and down the- one of the aisles at the edge of the- of the- hall, the dining room. And the other camera was hand-held, operated by yours truly, of course, and sometimes the- the fixed camera comes into the picture, but so what, you know, you cut that bit out. No point in taking care- not that it doesn't come into the picture, but it doesn't matter. The thing that matters, as with all- as with all scenes of that nature, is that you maintain the spontaneity and, if at all possible, you don't have to do it more than once. Matching in any case would be difficult, but also the spontaneity gets lost very quickly. So using my usual technique, which hasn't really varied through the Greek films, was to- to go hand-held at the moment- at a precise moment where the action turns violent, or- or lively, and to stop again the moment the action stops being violent or lively. The choice, I think, of that moment, where you switch from tripod to- to, or dolly, to hand-held, is very important. And that's what I have against things like the Dogma movement re- recently, is that everything has to be hand-held, tripod is anathema. It- it goes against the- the grain. It- it negates the whole point of going hand-held. Like in- in music, if you- if you have a climax, if it's preceded by silence, then the climax, of course, is much- is much more emphatic- much more effective. But if you- if you have climax all the time, it gets lost. So for me it's always been very important to plan the moment. Of course, in- in close collaboration with the director. But if you have a good relationship with the director, then you- you plan the moment. At this moment we'll go hand-held. In the case of the riot it was a mix of the two cameras running, as I've just said. But often only one camera is in use and the moment where the hand-holding begins and the moment where the hand-holding stops, is in- in itself very- very effective.

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: 3 minutes, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008