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Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010)

May. 13,2011
| Documentary

In 2001 Jack Cardiff (1914-2009) became the first director of photography in the history of the Academy Awards to win an Honorary Oscar. But the first time he clasped the famous statuette in his hand was a half-century earlier when his Technicolor camerawork was awarded for Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus. Beyond John Huston's The African Queen and King Vidor's War and Peace, the films of the British-Hungarian creative duo (The Red Shoes and A Matter of Life and Death too) guaranteed immortality for the renowned cameraman whose career spanned seventy years.


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Jack Cardiff was a master cinematographer who became inspired through the Powell & Pressburger partnership with films such as Life and death of Colonel Blimp, A matter of life and death, The red shoes and Black Narcissus which bagged him an Oscar for best colour cinematography.Cardiff in interviews filmed over several years comes off as modest, engaging, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. We see the influence of paintings from the masters in his work as well as problem solving with the challenges he faced in the still early days of cinema, now its the special effects people who take care of it all.As well as numerous clips of films he had worked on, collaborators we have super fans such as Martin Scorcese who has previously expressed his admiration of the films of Powell & Pressburger. It would had been nice to have heard from Francis Coppola another fan and some more British directors.Cardiff later moved into directing and was Oscar nominated for Best Director for Sons and Lovers but when the directing work dried up he moved back into cinematography, even lighting Rambo: First Blood Part 2 a film I have in the past complained about not being able to see anything as all the action took place in the dark.


Jack Cardiff was a cinematographer who used art as his inspiration, with magnificent results, which can be found in films such as Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes. His sense of color, lighting, and knowledge of painting all fed his work, creating some of film's most stunning moments."Cameraman: The Life of Work of Jack Cardiff" was assembled in 2010, though obviously some of the interviews were much older. The documentary traces Cardiff's life back to its beginnings with show business parents, some work as a child actor, as a gopher on film sets, and finally, interested in travel, joining a film studio's camera department so he could see the world.With his knowledge of the master painters and the way they used light and color, Cardiff rose through the ranks, as a camera operator, and director of photography for Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, The Archers.There were interviews with Martin Scorsese, Lauren Bacall, Moira Shearer, Kathleen Byron and Charlton Heston speaking about Cardiff's work -- and he worked with everyone, Katharine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, Sylvester Stallone, etc. - but what speaks to the viewer most are the glorious images on the screen, and Cardiff talking about how he created them.As much as the program focused on the beauty of Black Narcissus, I wanted more! The incredible Himalayan scenery, created in the studio with glass shots and hanging miniatures is some of the most magnificent work ever.Highly recommended, a great portrait of an energetic artist who worked into his nineties and said he might slow down in ten years - just fantastic.


British cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who made a name for himself with his splashy camera-work on the classic Powell & Pressburger films "A Matter of Life and Death", "Black Narcissus", and "The Red Shoes", recounts the cinematic milestones of his long career. Transitioning from British cinema to Hollywood filmmaking in the 1950s, Cardiff went on to work with such diverse directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Henry Hathaway, King Vidor, and John Huston. The film clips are well used, and the celebrity fans (such as Martin Scorsese) and co-workers who comment are interesting, though the second half of this documentary (after Cardiff moved from director of photography to the director's chair) is left a bit sketchy. Receiving an Academy Award nomination as Best Director for 1960's "Sons and Lovers", Cardiff admits this was the peak of his professional career...and yet we are left uncertain why such a talented and respected man didn't receive better assignments in later years. Still, finishing off with Cardiff's recent honorary Oscar celebration for the bulk of his work was a nice touch, proving that wisdom and talent go hand in hand--and age doesn't necessarily diminish either.


A documentary about acclaimed cameraman and film director Jack Cardiff, who had a lengthy career in British films, Hollywood and internationally, and worked with many of the biggest names in cinema.Jack Cardiff had a pretty amazing life. The son of theatrical performers, he was a child actor in silent pictures, then a jobber in British films in the thirties, was selected by Technicolor in 1936 to be the first person in the UK to be trained in its use, won an Oscar for Black Narcissus in 1947, went on to work with everyone from Humphrey Bogart to Marilyn Monroe to Sylvester Stallone, directed a dozen movies of his own (my favourite of which is Girl On A Motorcycle but the most famous is probably Sons And Lovers), was still making features in his seventies and carried on working pretty much up until his death in 2009 aged 94. What a guy. This film is a series of interviews with him and those who worked with him, shot over several years, and he is witty, informative, modest and insightful. His conception of what movie photography should really be - a moving extension of painting - is fabulous, with many clips beautifully illustrating this ideology. Good movie photography should convey the action clearly and simply. Great movie photography should do this but also have artistic merit in its use of colour, shade, composition and movement through the frame. Outstanding movie photography should do all this but somehow contribute to the emotion of the film as well, and this is what Cardiff's cinematography somehow achieves. He has many interesting stories to tell, both technical and otherwise, and the film is crammed full of amazing photos from his life, like the one of Marlene Dietrich (who also knew a thing or two about cameras) looking through one of his lenses. He's also refreshingly honest and forward-looking - he doesn't dismiss digital technology when it would be so easy for someone of his calibre to do so, and like all great artists he adapted and evolved his style over time. Even if you're not really interested in movie photography, check out this great little documentary about a guy who - as far as movies are concerned - pretty much saw it all. The film includes footage previously shot by McCall for his shorts The Colour Merchant and Painting With Light, had a small but deserved theatrical release and was showcased at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. For those seeking more detail on Cardiff, he also published an excellent autobiography entitled Magic Hour. 6/10