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Walter Lassally, cinematographer – obituary

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  • Walter Lassally, cinematographer – obituary

    Walter Lassally, cinematographer – obituary

  • #2
    The Guardian obituary



    • #3

      An excellent cinematographer. Especially for B&W location shooting, with an excellent set of credits including: A Taste of Honey, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Tom Jones, and Zorba The Greek, who started in short documentaries, a couple with Lindsay Anderson.
      Last edited by agutterfan; 6th November 2017, 11:47 AM.


      • #4
        From the BFI, a tribute



        • #5
          The Times obituary
          Walter Lassally

          Virtuosic Oscar-winning cinematographer who made his name in the 1960s with the gritty realism films of the British New Wave

          November 9 2017

          Not only did Walter Lassally go to the cinema regularly as a child in Berlin and have a father who made industrial training films, he even liked to pretend he was an employee of one of the big German film companies. He cut out the logo and turned it into his own fake ID.

          “I had a little badge made up from a trade journal,” he said. “The company, called UFA, which is Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft, had this little sign and I had a badge made up and I wore it in the playground. When I went to school I wore this little badge which said UFA.”

          His journey to become one of the world’s leading cinematographers had begun, but it would be far from smooth.

          Born in Berlin in 1926, Lassally was the only child of a German father and Polish mother. His father was an engineer who made instructional films in the silent era. Lassally’s immediate family were Lutheran, but he had Jewish ancestors and, after the Nazis came to power, his father was prevented from working or conducting his business.

          Lassally recalled that although they were not sufficiently Aryan for the Nazis, neither were they sufficiently Jewish to receive any help from Jewish relief organisations in England. His father was arrested in 1938, but was told that he would be released if he and his family emigrated. Although they managed to arrange a Peruvian visa and the possibility of a job in Canada, it was England that was to become their new home.

          The crates they had packed with their belongings were due to follow them, but war broke out in the meantime. “They ended up being bombed by the RAF in Bremerhaven Harbour,” Lassally recalled. “So we never got any of that stuff, including my little model railway.”

          “We all got out alive, which was the main thing,” he said later. “My father’s two sisters weren’t so lucky . . . they were definitely killed in one of the concentration camps.”

          Because Britain was now at war with Germany, Lassally’s father was arrested again as a possible German agent and detained in a camp on the Isle of Man. After his release the family settled in Richmond, in southwest London, and latterly Lassally’s father worked as a translator.

          My father’s sisters were definitely killed in one of the concentration camps

          By the age of 15 Lassally had decided he wanted to be a cameraman and wrote to every possible company in his search to find a way into the industry, eventually landing a job as a clapperboy at Riverside Studios in London.

          After the war the winds of social change quickly blew through the worlds of literature, theatre and cinema, with documentary very much at the forefront for film-makers. Lassally duly became one of the key figures in the Free Cinema movement of the 1950s, serving as cameraman on documentary shorts that went out on to the streets and captured working-class life on celluloid, often using cameras that did not record sound, with voiceover added later.

          He was a cinematographer on Thursday’s Children, a 20-minute film about children at the Royal School for the Deaf in Margate, Kent. It was directed by Lindsay Anderson and Guy Brenton and won an Oscar for best documentary short.

          He was also cinematographer on Karel Reisz’s landmark documentary We are the Lambeth Boys in 1959, a year in which he was credited on such diverse films as Britain’s Wealth From Coal and the Drambuie-sponsored short A Song for Prince Charlie.
          While Lassally was prepared to work outside the mainstream, he had no intention of abandoning it altogether.

          By the mid-1950s he was working as a director of photography on feature films, including Another Sky (1954), shot on location in Morocco, and A Girl in Black (1956), the first of six films with Michael Cacoyannis. They had met by chance at the Cannes Film Festival a few years earlier.

          Then in 1961 he graduated to director of photography on the British classic A Taste of Honey, a film for which the cliché “gritty realism” is now almost obligatory.

          Shelagh Delaney was a teenager when she began writing A Taste of Honey as a novel before deciding it would be easier to write a play. It was first staged at Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1958 before transferring to the West End, and its story and characters were a revelation to theatre audiences.

          It centred on Jo, a Salford schoolgirl who lives with a selfish, slovenly, hard-drinking mother. Jo takes up with a black sailor, discovers she is pregnant and sets up home with a gay art student. In a single play, Delaney addressed questions of family responsibility, class, race, gender, sex and sexuality.

          A Taste of Honey reached a much wider audience on the big screen, with Rita Tushingham in her first film and Dora Bryan as the mother. Lassally brought to it the hard-edged monochrome cinematographic style that he had honed in his documentaries. It was one of the films that defined that particular chapter in British social history and it won four Bafta awards, including best British film.

          Lassally consolidated his position in British cinema with The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, another classic of the New Wave movement. After this he worked in colour on Tom Jones (1963), while muting it with filters and employing cinematic tricks to distinguish its style from the prevalent fashion for social realism.

          He gave his Oscar to the taverna where he shot the dance scene

          He then scored arguably his greatest success, applying an approach he had developed in Margate and Lambeth to the sun-drenched Cretan landscape in Zorba the Greek. He filmed it in monochrome, but only after a prolonged argument with Cacoyannis, the director, and star Anthony Quinn, who both thought it should be made in colour.

          Alan Bates plays a rather staid Englishman introduced to Greek culture — and most memorably Greek dancing — by the eponymous hero, played by Quinn.

          Shooting the film in English and casting Quinn, of Irish-Mexican descent, seemed on the face of it a cultural outrage on a par with the removal of the Elgin Marbles. Nevertheless, it was a glorious success, costing less than $1 million to make and grossing more than ten times as much on initial cinema release. It won three Oscars, including Lassally’s award for best black and white cinematography. And it had a huge impact on Greek tourism.

          In the 1970s and 80s Lassally became the cinematographer of choice for Merchant Ivory. He first worked with the team on Savages (1972) and his distinctive atmospheric style was one of the best things about Heat and Dust (1983) and The Bostonians (1984). He got on well with regular director James Ivory, but clashed with Simon Callow, making his directorial debut on The Ballad of the Sad Café (1991).

          In the late 1980s and early 1990s he taught at the National Film and Television School. After his wife, Nadia, died in 1994, he settled permanently on Crete. They did not have children and he lived there alone in a villa beside the beach where he shot the Zorba dance scene. “I’ve been around the world and never found a place to live that’s better than this spot,” he said.

          Lassally spoke fluent Greek, as well as English, German and French, and was a well-known figure in the areas around the villages of Stavros and Kalathas, embracing the land and culture as Alan Bates’s character had done, although he was hardly the only one attracted to the island by Zorba.

          “Now, of course, there’s Zorba all over the place,” he said. “There’s Zorba Taverna and Zorba Restaurant and Zorba Villas and Zorba House and all that.”

          He gave his Oscar to the taverna on the beach where he shot the dance scene. It was on display there, a reminder of the film’s most famous sequence, until five years ago when the restaurant burnt down and the Oscar was destroyed. “The Oscar had a good life,” said Lassally. “There are thousands of photos of it with me and with the mountain and beach that the film made famous.”

          Walter Lassally, cinematographer, was born on December 18, 1926. He died on October 23, 2017, aged 90