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Lionel Banes: BECTU Interview Part 4 (1988)

Lensing for Alfred Hitchcock and film equipment at Gaumont Studios

Main image of Lionel Banes: BECTU Interview Part 4 (1988)

The copyright of this recording and transcript is vested in the BECTU History Project. Lionel Banes was interviewed by Peter Sargent on 28 July 1988.

1. Hitchcock

PS: Did you work with Alfred Hitchcock at all?

LB: Yes. At Gaumont only. On The 39 Steps. They had Leslie Rowson doing models in a factory on Western Avenue.

PS: I was with you on that.

LB: And I went there and if you can remember he went to sleep when he should have been working and I lit them and shot it, and every day when the rushes arrived Leslie when he shot them had to go to Gaumonts and show them to Hitchcock. But when my day's work came, he said well I never shot them you go with them yourself. So I went there and I remember in the theatre Hitchcock said to me you have to sit on my left. So I sat on his left, we saw the rushes and it was a railway coach with passengers at the tables and a great crash had occurred and all these bodies got thrown up in the ceiling, thrown up, forward, backwards, and I thought I'd made a jolly good job, I'm very pleased.

Lights came up and Hitch looked at me, and his eyes used to sometimes really glare at you I thought what's he going to say. He said you're a very good cameraman, photographically very good, but you're a bad director. So I said director? They're all little wooden figures. So he said, wooden or whatever they are you've directed them very badly, now you go back, you'll do it all again. He said and they wouldn't all leave their seats at the same time, and so many would hit the ceiling and so many would go to the right and so many to the left. They'd all do different things. You direct them this time, and do that.

So I went back, and if you remember the model man was Guido Baldi, the Italian. So he sat down for a bit and contemplated and I said to him could we stick plasticine on the seats and sides and backs of the figures, and that would give a split second. So he said yes, we'll try that. I shot it again and the following day when I went back to Hitch he was quite pleased with me.

PS: That was for a film called Sabotage. And in fact it went out on television about 2 months ago. And what you were doing the model work for was for back projection plate, because they had in the foreground of your shot a life-size train interior.

LB: Oh we also did, apart from that coach, I also did many other model shots of the train coming along a railway line, and even an aeroplane flying above and bombing it. Yes I did a lot for that. I also did models for another of Hitchcock's pictures, I can't remember much about.

PS: Because Hitchcock made Little Friend, Man Who Knew Too Much, Secret Agent, 39 Steps and Sabotage, not in that order.

LB: I think I did something for Secret Agent.

2. Technical

LB: At Gaumont they'd bought 2 Debrie cameras, the French Super Parvo's and I remember operating for Gunther Krampf, also a German cameraman, and he only let me use that Super Parvo.

PS: And they used to go in for a lot of gauzing.

LB: Krampf put diffiusion lenses on which he told me he'd had made in Budapest so I nicknamed them the Hungarian Rapsody. [Laughter]

PS: But also they used Astro lenses a lot.

LB: On the Cinephon cameras that came from Czechoslovakia, they were all Astro lenses, and they were all on the soft side.

PS: Of course as a focus puller, before you operated, it was a far harder job than I think nowadays because one always worked at full aperture.

LB: Well you worked at full open aperture, at F2.

PS: And directors often used fairly long focus lenses.

LB: That's quite right the 3 inch lens very, very often.

PS: Yes, I remember doing a dancing scene with somebody with a 75 mil. Um, did you use cranes, back projection, all that sort of thing much?

LB: Back projection, I'm trying to think, Friday The Thirteenth, a picture made at Gainsboroughs,

PS: Was that a Jessie Matthews?

LB: No, I don't think so.

PS: Was that where he's a bus conductor?

LB: Yes, Sonnie Hale.

PS: That's right. Well, I think she was in Friday The Thirteenth too.

LB: I don't remember her. Well you've jogged my memory. I can remember an American cameraman, Charlie Van Enger, and he, to my amazement lit with flood, did all the filling in on the back projection with floodlights going all over the screen.

PS: Because it was a problem in those days to get enough light onto the screen anyway.

LB: Yes, at that time, because the film wasn't very fast, and the projector didn't have a very powerful arc light.

PS: And then you had the problem of lack of depth of field between your artists and the screen so you had to try and keep as near the screen as possible. And I believe again at Lime Grove Jack Whitehead did a lot of back projection.

LB: At Gaumont Jack Whitehead tried to specialise in shooting the plates and being present when they were being filmed.

PS: They made a great mystery of back projection.

LB: They tried to, yes.

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Audio & Video Clips
Banes, Lionel (1904-1996)
Gaumont-British Picture Corporation