The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry

Lassally to be Honored by ASC

October 15, 2007

Walter Lassally, BSC will receive the 2008 American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) International Achievement Award, which is presented annually to an individual who has made an enduring impression on the art of cinematography and has compiled their main body of work outside the United States. The award will be presented at the 22nd Annual ASC Outstanding Achievement Awards celebration here on January 26, 2008, at the Hollywood and Highland Grand Ballroom.

Lassally’s career spanned 50 years and took him to all corners of the globe. He was a main player in the evolution of the Free Cinema and British New Wave movements in collaboration with Tony Richardson, Karel Reizs, Lindsay Anderson and other directors. He earned more than 50 feature film credits, including Zorba the Greek, which earned an Academy Award for Best Cinematography in 1965.

“Walter Lassally expanded the vocabulary of visual storytelling,” says ASC Awards Chairman Russ Alsobrook. “His work with small crews at real locations with minimal lighting brought a new perspective to the British and international cinema. Many of his innovations are now considered standard film grammar.”

“I’m grateful,” Lassally says. “Although it is gratifying when one’s work is appreciated, I always feel somewhat embarrassed if I’m singled out for what I regard as over-lavish praise. In my opinion, the photography has failed if it draws too much attention to itself, and in many cases, the real author of the effects that the critics so admire is often God.”

Previous recipients of the ASC International Achievement Award are Freddie Young, BSC; Jack Cardiff, BSC; Gabriel Figueroa, AMC; Henri Alekan; Raoul Coutard; Freddie Francis, BSC; Giuseppe Rotunno, ASC, AIC; Oswald Morris, BSC; Billy Williams, BSC; Douglas Slocombe, BSC; Witold Sobocinski, PSC; Miroslav Ondricek, ASC, ACK; Tonino Delli Colli, AIC; Gilbert Taylor, BSC and Michael Ballhaus, ASC.

Lassally was born in 1926 in Berlin, where his father made industrial and training films. He and his parents escaped to England about two months before the beginning of World War II. Lassally knew that he wanted to be a cameraman when he was 15 years old. He wrote letters to studios asking for work. After stints at a film library and a still photography studio, he joined Riverside Studios as a clapper boy.

By the early 1950s, Lassally was shooting documentaries and short narrative films with Richardson, Anderson and Reizs. He subsequently collaborated with those directors and others on feature films. Lassally earned his first credit as a director of photography in 1954 on Another Sky.

During the early 1960s, he shot such visually innovative films as A Taste of Honey, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and Tom Jones with Richardson. He photographed six films with Greek director Michael Cacoyannis, including Zorba the Greek. Lassally began his association with director James Ivory in 1972 when he shot Savages for the director. His other Merchant-Ivory films included Autobiography of a Princess (1975), Heat and Dust (1983) and The Bostonians (1984). The latter two earned him BAFTA and British Society of Cinematographers (BSC) Best Cinematography Award nominations, respectively.

Lassally is credited with pioneering the use of Arriflex cameras on feature films, at a time when they were used exclusively for newsreels and documentaries. He used handheld cameras to amplify tension and different film stocks to differentiate emotional moods and underscore drama.
Throughout his career he continued to work in the documentary genre. Examples include filming at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and Vermeer: Light, Love and Silence (1995).

Lassally continued shooting well into the 1990s, while spending generous amounts of time teaching the next generation. He has also written dozens of magazine articles about cinematography. His memoir Itinerant Cameraman was published in 1987. Lassally currently lives in Greece on the island of Crete.