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Tom Jones: technical difficulties- day for night (Part 1)

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Tom Jones: technical difficulties- filters (Part 2)
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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If you project something on a screen surrounded by black, that is also a factor which increases the contrast, and in the original Telecinema- The original National Film Theatre was called the Telecinema and it was in the South Bank site, built as part of the Festival of Britain in 1951. And that had an experimental screen surround which was lit with dimmers and the dimmers were linked to the brightness of the projected image. So, if you had a very bright image, the dimmers went up and the surround lit up, and if you had a very dark image, the surround went down, possibly to black. So that mitigate- I don't know why they felt that that was a good idea, but they experimented with it and it was soon dropped because it didn't work very well. The synchronisation didn't work and it was irritating because your eye was drawn to something outside the image. But the principle, of course, is correct, that if you want to lessen the contrast then you have to do something about the black surround. Because it's the black surround that gives an impression of more contrast. So I wanted a filter to cut that down a bit. And at the same time I wanted to diffuse the image, certainly for the close-ups, but possibly also for the long shots, to give a certain softness. Because the human eye, first of all people don't have 20/20 vision, very few people have 20/20 vision, but even if you have 20/20 vision, you see- you do not see things like a camera sees things. Particularly a camera with modern lenses. Modern lenses are very, very sharp. If you photograph a face, direct with a modern lens, it comes out not very pleasant looking, because you see every beard stubble, every pore, every- in much too much detail. The human eye doesn't see people like that, so it's not aesthetically pleasing. So throughout history of cinema people have used diffusion. Cameramen have used diffusion. The net that I got from Georges Périnal is, is- was one of- some cameramen had a whole booklet full of wonderful nets which were hat veils of different sorts, silk stockings, all kinds of things, because they all found, quite early on, that an undiffused image is not very pleasant. So I settled on a net which Desmond Davis had, my operator, had, and he had obtained it from George Périnal, not directly, but it went through various other hands on the way, and this was quite a small piece. So we cut it into two pieces and one piece was framed in a 3x3-inch frame, and that was used for the wider angle stuff. And then we had a- no it's the other way round actually. Then we had a smaller one which was put in a circular frame and that went directly on the lens. The other net went in the filter holder, which all cameras have in front. The whole film is photographed through those two pieces of net- every shot. Except for certain shots that the second unit did, which Manny Wynn, my focus puller, who also became the cameraman on the second unit, which is a certain amount of work on location. And to this day, even on television, I can see the insert- if I'd warn you, you'd see it too. If I prepare you, as it were, I'd say, watch that and tell me if you see an image that doesn't quite match. And you will see the image where the- what do you call the spur-? Spurs. Spurs. The image where he digs the spurs into the horse and there's some blood on the flank of the horse. That was one of the things that the second unit did, and that is unfiltered, and it stands out. Immediately you get a sudden increase in contrast, the colour is brighter than the other- the surrounding scenes, and to prevent that kind of thing I used this net. But the production company, United Artists, they would've gone spare if they'd known that the entire look of the film was based on these, was absolutely dependent, on these two tiny bits of very fragile net which were totally irreplaceable.

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, 22 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008