Berlin, 18 December 1926; emigrated to England, 1939; used the pseudonym
John Walters on some early films.
Clapper boy for Riverside Studios; 1946—directed first film,
; 1950—first film as cinematographer,
Every Five Minutes
; TV work includes the series
The Commanding Sea
Academy Award for
Zorba the Greek
Every Five Minutes (M. Anderson)
From Plan into Action (Alexander) (co); Forward a Century (Napier-Bell) (co)
Festival (York); At Whose Door? (Napier-Bell); We Who Are Young (Simmons); The Pleasure Garden (Broughton); Three Installations (L. Anderson); Wakefield Express (L. Anderson)
Power Signal Lineman (M. Anderson); High Speed ; Sunday by the Sea (Simmons); One Great Vision (Simmons); Thursday's Children (L. Anderson and Brenton)
Bow Bells (Simmons); Friend of the Family (Thomson)
Green and Pleasant Land (L. Anderson); Henry (L. Anderson); Continuous Observation (Thomson); The Children Upstairs (L. Anderson); A Hundred Thousand Children (L. Anderson); Foot and Mouth (L. Anderson)
Together (Mazzetti) (co); The Brighton Story (Wilcox); The Gentle Corsican (Simmons); Momma Don't Allow (Reisz and Richardson); Return from the Sun (Casparius); Simon (Zadek); The Simpson and Godlee Story (Casparius); Children's Corner ( Day Nursing ) (+ ed, co-d with Nadelmann)
Every Day Except Christmas (L. Anderson); A River Speaks (Casparius); Ten Bridges (Luke); George Bernard Shaw (Shaw-Ashton); A Sculptor's Landscape (Read)
Blue Peter (Fernhout); A.B.C. ( Aruba, Bonaire, Curazao ) (Fernhout); Alone with the Monsters (Nour); A Song for Prince Charlie (O'Leary)
Refuge England (Vas); Enquiry into General Practice (Dickson)
Midsummer Music (Swift)
Let My People Go (Krish); Why Bri? (Napier-Bell) (co); London University (Napier-Bell) (co)
The Peaches (Gill); Lila (Raggett) (co); Dublin through Different Eyes (Carr)
Mao le veut ; Dan (+ pr, co-d with Campbell); The Greeks (+ pr, co-d with Campbell)
Labyrinth (Kroiter, Low, and O'Connor)
Henry Moore at the Tate Gallery (+ co-d with Sylvester)
Can Horses Sing? (Sussex); Bilocation ( Within Hail ) (Cornu); Paris Restaurants (Sher)
Carved in Ivory (Gill); W.S.P. (J. Anderson)
Ernst Fuchs (Jasny)
The Passing Stranger (Arnold)
To koritsi me ta mavra ( A Girl in Black ) (Cacoyannis); Another Sky (Lambert)
To teleftaio psemma ( A Matter of Dignity ) (Cacoyannis)
We Are the Lambeth Boys (Reisz); Jago hua savera ( Day Shall Dawn ) (Kardar) (co)
As Dark as the Night (Young)
Beat Girl ( Wild for Kicks ) (Greville); Maddalena (Dimopoulos); Eroica ( Our Last Spring ) (Cacoyannis); Aliki sto naftiko ( Aliki in the Navy ) (Sakellarios)
Electra (Cacoyannis); I Liza kai i alli ( Liza and Her Double ) (Dimopoulos); A Taste of Honey (Richardson)
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Richardson)
Tom Jones (Richardson)
Psyche 63 (Singer); Zorba the Greek (Cacoyannis)
Assignment Skybolt (Tallas)
The Day the Fish Came Out (Cacoyannis); Oedipus the King (Saville)
The Adding Machine (Epstein); Joanna (Sarne); Three into Two Won't Go (Hall); Anichti epistoli ( Open Letter ) (Stambolopoulos); Olimpiada en Mexico ( The Olympics in Mexico ) (Isaac); Battleship Potemkin Survivor (Montaldi—for TV)
Twinky ( Lola ) (Donner)
Something for Everyone ( Black Flowers for the Bride ) (Prince)
To Kill a Clown (Bloomfield)
Adventures of a Brown Man in Search of Civilisation (Ivory); Savages (Ivory); Gun before Butter (Zadek)
"The Highest" ep. of Visions of Eight (Penn); Happy Mother's Day . . . Love George (McGavin); The Seaweed Children ( Malachi's Cove ) (Herbert)
The Wild Party (Ivory); Après le vent des sables ( The Web ) (Zaccai); Henry Cotton: This Game of Golf (Raeburn); The World of Sam Smith (Zetterling)
Autobiography of a Princess (Ivory); Ansichten eines Clowns ( The Clown ) (Jasny); Requiem for a Village (Gladwell) (co); In the Beginning (Gill)
Pleasantville (Locker and Polon); Fluchtversuch ( I vo ) (Jasny)
Shenanigans ( The Great Georgia Bank Hoax ; The Great Bank Hoax ) (Jacoby); Morgensterne ; The Blood of Hussain (Dehlavi)
Hullabaloo over Georgie and Bonnie's Pictures (Ivory); Too Far to Go (Cook); Die Frau gegenüber ( The Woman across the Way ) (Noever)
Something Short of Paradise (Helpern)
The Pilot (Richardson); Der Preis fürs Überleben ( The Price of Survival ) (Noever); Life on the Mississippi (Hunt); Gauguin the Savage (Cook)
Memoirs of a Survivor (Gladwell); Engel aus Eisen ( The Iron Angel ) (Brasch); The Private History of a Campaign that Failed (Hunt); The Mysterious Stranger (Hunt)
Heat and Dust (Ivory); Tuxedo Warrior (Sinclair); Mystery at Fire Island (Fuest)
Private School (Black); The Case of Marcel Duchamp (Rowan); Pudd'nhead Wilson (Bridges)
The Bostonians (Ivory); Children in the Crossfire (Schaefer) (co); The Bengal Lancers (Weeks)
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Hunt); Stone Pillow (Schaefer—for TV); Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry (Schaefer—for TV)
Indian Summer (Forder)
The Perfect Murder (Hai); The Deceivers (Meyer)
Fragments of Isabella (O' Leary); Kamilla og tyven II
The Ballad of the Sad Café (Callow)
The Man Upstairs (Schaefer—for TV)
Smith, Our Friend (co-d with York—short, + co-pr)
Dancing with Crime (Carstairs—short) (asst ph); This Was a Woman (Whelan—short) (asst ph)
What's in a Number (Krish—short) (asst ph); Things Happen at Night (Searle—short) (asst ph)
Night and the City (Dassin—short) (asst ph)
House of Blackmail (Elvey) (asst ed)
Itinerant Cameraman , London, 1987.
"Subjective Cinema: An Analysis of the MGM Film Lady in the Lake ," in Film Industry , April 1947.
With Richard Kohler, "The Big Screens," in Sight and Sound (London), January/March 1955.
Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1956.
"The Dead Hand," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1960.
Film (London), no. 37, 1963.
Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1965.
Film (London), no. 51, Spring 1968.
Journal of the University Film Association (Carbondale, Illinois), vol. 26, no. 4, 1974.
American Cinematographer (Hollywood), February 1975.
Deutsche Kameramann (Munich), April/May 1976.
Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1980.
On Heat and Dust in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), January 1984.
"Ford Fever," in Sight and Sound (London), November 1992.
Jeune Cinéma , no. 224, October 1993.
"Of Guilds and Unions and Long Hours," in Eyepiece (Greenford), vol. 17, no. 1, 1996.
"Call For a New Standard Format," in Eyepiece (Greenford), vol. 17, no. 2, 1996.
"Desert Island Flicks," in Eyepiece (Greenford), vol. 17, no. 4, 1996.
Films and Filming (London), December 1954.
Focus on Film (London), no. 13, 1973.
On Heat and Dust in Film (London), April/May 1984.
Film Dope (Nottingham), November 1985.
Baker, Rick, "Rockport Lighting Seminar: Walter Lassally, BSC," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), November 1989.
* * *
The evolution of Walter Lassally from clapperboy to lighting cameraman with a world reputation makes a fascinating story. His father was an industrial filmmaker in Berlin and his mother was of Polish origin. Fleeing from the Nazi menace in 1939, his father set up a one-man film unit in London, so film was in Lassally's blood. Cutting short his science studies, he took up the job of clapperboy in the Riverside studios where he found that theory and practice did not run hand-in-hand. A young man with high ideals, his experience in the film industry fell short of these. When the studio went bankrupt he began freelancing. Around this time (1954), the Sequence magazine group was absorbed into the British Film Institute and there was a ferment of ideas in this quarter where the young Lassally met people such as Lindsay Anderson, Gavin Lambert, and Karel Reisz. It was among this group that the British Free Cinema Movement was born, and Lassally photographed many of their films. They tried to illuminate the life about them and break away from the stereotyped view of the commercial cinema. In 1954 he got his first major lighting camera job on a feature film, Gavin Lambert's beautiful, if neglected, Another Sky , shot on location in Morocco. The young film buff now chose the more adventurous path of the independent, low-budget film, open to a personal and creative approach. As he said himself: "Atmospheric photography is still one of my criteria when I decide what projects to accept." It has been for him a gratifying choice as he has worked with such directors as Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson, Lindsay Anderson, Michael Cacoyannis, James Ivory, and Arthur Penn. He has an international awareness of cinema and he deplores the narrow chauvinistic approach of many national film industries.
While his film style is straightforward, he has not hesitated to break the conventions on occasion, as in Tom Jones , directed by Tony Richardson, and in his mixture of color, sepia, and black and white in James Ivory's Savages . Lassally is especially at home with natural settings, and shot the first British film to be filmed totally on location, A Taste of Honey , also directed by Richardson. Nearly 30 years later, Lassally's filming of The Perfect Murder , shot on location in Bombay, received critical praise, as did his work on The Ballad of the Sad Café , in which he used filters to create stark Edward Hopper-like lighting effects.
In 1964 he won an Academy Award for his photography of Zorba the Greek directed by Cacoyannis, thereby setting a seal on a career that was further added to by the films he made for James Ivory, including Heat and Dust . Lassally, whose Itinerant Cameraman is an autobiography crammed with technical knowledge and observations about film, is a cinematographer who writes about his craft. His beliefs have led him to work primarily on quality intellectual films and adaptations, rather than on Hollywood blockbuster spectacles.
—Liam O'Leary, updated by Thomas L. Erskine