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Lassally, Walter (1926-)


Main image of Lassally, Walter (1926-)

A key figure in the British New Wave, Walter Lassally came to Britain as a refugee from Nazi Germany. He has worked solidly in British and international films for fifty years, starting as a clapper boy, then filming semi-professionally with friend Derek York (the short Smith, Our Friend, 1946). He also wrote many magazine articles about film-making from the late '40s.

After shooting a number of documentaries and shorts, several for Free Cinema directors, including Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson's Momma Don't Allow (1955), Lindsay Anderson's Every Day Except Christmas (1957) and Reisz's We Are the Lambeth Boys (1959), he followed these directors into feature films and contributed to the look of the new British realist cinema of the late '50s/early '60s.

He shot three notable features for Richardson: A Taste of Honey (1961), with its melancholy black-and-white rendering of England's north; The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) in which his images - of the liberating effect of the early morning runs intercut with recollections of shabby urban confinement - contribute strikingly to the film's polemic; and Tom Jones (1963), an exuberantly, spring-fresh version of an 18th century novel, shot with up-to-the-moment technology.

He then did several films for Greek director, Michael Cacoyannis, and won an Oscar for his work on Zorba the Greek (US/Greece, 1964). In 1972 he began his association with director James Ivory by shooting Savages, which remains one of his favourite films. His other Merchant-Ivory films include Autobiography of a Princess (1975), and the Indian-set Heat and Dust (1982), in which he gave the '20s sequences a soft 'period' glow that contrasted with the more brightly-lit, often hand-held look of the modern scenes.

Tirelessly innovative, he went on working well into the '90s (e.g., Baby Dolphins of the Amyrakikos Bay, Greece, d. Dinos Dimopoulos, 1993), after most of his Free Cinema colleagues had died or retired.

Autobiography: Itinerant Cameraman, 1987.

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Film

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of 'Beat' Girl (1959)'Beat' Girl (1959)

Cautionary tale about a respectable girl turned sleazy stripper

Thumbnail image of Bow Bells (1954)Bow Bells (1954)

Glimpses of London's East End accompanied by old music-hall songs

Thumbnail image of Every Day Except Christmas (1957)Every Day Except Christmas (1957)

Classic Free Cinema doc about Covent Garden market

Thumbnail image of Heat and Dust (1982)Heat and Dust (1982)

The lives of two English women in India separated by two generations

Thumbnail image of Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The (1962)Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The (1962)

A borstal boy turns marathon runner in this adaptation of Alan Sillitoe's novel

Thumbnail image of Momma Don't Allow (1956)Momma Don't Allow (1956)

Free Cinema short following teenagers at a jazz club.

Thumbnail image of Refuge England (1959)Refuge England (1959)

Moving film about a Hungarian refugee's first day in London

Thumbnail image of Sunday by the Sea (1953)Sunday by the Sea (1953)

Impressions of a day at Southend, accompanied by music-hall songs

Thumbnail image of Taste of Honey, A (1961)Taste of Honey, A (1961)

New Wave classic about a pregnant teenager facing an uncertain future

Thumbnail image of Three Installations (1952)Three Installations (1952)

Early Lindsay Anderson industrial film promoting Sutcliffe's conveyors

Thumbnail image of Together (1956)Together (1956)

Moving film following two deaf mutes through London's East End

Thumbnail image of Wakefield Express (1952)Wakefield Express (1952)

Early Lindsay Anderson documentary about a local newspaper

Thumbnail image of We are the Lambeth Boys (1959)We are the Lambeth Boys (1959)

Free cinema documentary about South London teenagers

Related collections

Thumbnail image of British New WaveBritish New Wave

50s-60s films which reinvigorated cinema

Thumbnail image of Free CinemaFree Cinema

Groundbreaking documentary movement of the late 1950s

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Thumbnail image of Richardson, Tony (1928-1991)Richardson, Tony (1928-1991)

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