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.