Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff

Watch the current Reeling broadcast here!

Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Jack Cardiff started his life in the movie business as a child actor in 1918 and into the 1920s. He moved from in front of the camera to behind it as a production runner at age 15. In 1935, he began a long and distinguished career as cinematographer and director and is the first director of photography to earn an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, But, to the many film luminaries who sing his praises, he is first and foremost their “Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff

Jack Cardiff started his life in the movie business as a child actor in 1918 and into the 1920s. He moved from in front of the camera to behind it as a production runner at age 15. In 1935, he began a long and distinguished career as cinematographer and director and is the first director of photography to earn an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, But, to the many film luminaries who sing his praises, he is first and foremost their “Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff  
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Jack Cardiff started his life in the movie business as a child actor in 1918 and into the 1920s. He moved from in front of the camera to behind it as a production runner at age 15. In 1935, he began a long and distinguished career as cinematographer and director and is the first director of photography to earn an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, But, to the many film luminaries who sing his praises, he is first and foremost their “Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff.”

Robin:
For over 70 years, Jack Cardiff lent his incredible eye to help create some of filmdom’s best works. His first feature work as a lenser, “The Last Days of Pompeii (1935)” went uncredited and he began his climb to be, what many consider, the best cinematographer in the business. In 1947, he teamed, for the first time, with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and the result, “Black Narcissus (1947),” earned him an Academy Award for cinematography. Cardiff became the in-demand lenser and he worked again with Powell and Pressburger on 1948’s “The Red Shoes,” then with Alfred Hitchcock on “Under Capricorn (1949)” and on “The Black Rose (1950)” with Henry Hathaway and Tyrone Power.

Director John Huston hired Cardiff to shoot “The Africa Queen (1951)” with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. Bogart’s wife, Lauren Bacall, recalls, in interviews, that Huston was a tough and demanding director who asked his DP to do the impossible and, Bacall remembers, Jack always did it. She is just one of the many movie notables to talk about the master lenser, including Cardiff himself, who is a storehouse of anecdotes about the movie biz. His description of working with Marlene Dietrich – who was known for setting her camera shots herself – is that of two behind-the-camera colleagues.

The list of contributors to this captivating documentary by Craig McCall is impressive. Martin Scorsese, Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Charlton Heston, Kim Hunter, John Mills, Alan Parker, producer Freddie Francis and many more put in their two cents about the man who influenced motion pictures for over 70 years, in Hollywood, Europe and the world. When Jack Cardiff was interviewed at age 91, he said, “In another 10 years I’ll have to take it easy.” This remarkable man worked right up to his death in 2009.

“Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff” is a labor of love by all involved and helmer McCall puts it all together in an homage to Jack Cardiff and the films he helped create and bring to the filmgoers around the world. Besides Cardiff’s copious works in feature films, his frequent documentary works are also discussed in detail. If you like movies, especially movies about movies, then this is a must see. I give it a B+.

Laura:
At the 2001 Academy Awards, Dustin Hoffman informed the audience that anyone 70 years old or younger hadn't been around as long as the honorary Oscar winner, the first cinematographer to be granted the honor, had been shooting film.  Producer/director Craig McCall has assembled a lively, entertaining and informative look at a man whose career is intertwined with the very fabric of film history in "Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff."

British cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who worked from the silent film era until the age of ninety-one, two years before his death in 2009, is probably most well known for his work with Powell and Pressburger on such luminous, color saturated films as "Black Narcissus" and "The Red Shoes," but it's equally fascinating to hear how he got there.  As captured by McCall, Cardiff has a palpable joie de vivre, an impish way with an anecdote and inventive solutions for capturing images.  He's also self-deprecating, as can be seen in a 1998 visit to Cannes where he delights in journalists having no idea who he is.

Cardiff's first foray into film was as an actor at the age of 4, stemming from his theater parents' work as film extras, but it was what was going on behind the camera that interested him.  He started as a clapper boy and worked his way up to a camera operator by 1932 (for 'As You Like It').  He tells us he learned his skills by reading all the books mentioned within Frank Harris's racy 'My Life and Loves, but years later, when interviewed by Technicolor to be their first test operator, won the job with his knowledge of painting.  He then made a name for himself via the early travelogue series 'Windows on the World.'

His stories, like how Dietrich emerged fully naked from a bath in front of an entire crew, are delightful.  When Michael Powell told him he wanted to do a fade for "A Matter of Life and Death" that was 'misty,' Cardiff created condensation on the lens with his breath.  He worked around a studio issue on "War and Peace" by putting a piece of glass with background painting between his camera and the stage.

And it's not only Jack we hear from.  Scorcese and his long time editor Thelma Schoonmaker talk about his work on "The Enchanted Cottage" and his incredible long, moving take in Hitchcock's "Under Capricorn," where McCall uses a spotlight device to call our attention to a bed being raised on hydraulics to allow the shot.  After talking about the magical realism of "Pandora and the Flying Dutchman," we see Cardiff 'drawing' a frame around the 16mm film image in front of him.  Lauren Bacall remembers "The African Queen."  His first stint as a director was roundly panned, but his second, "Sons and Lovers," garnered him an Oscar nomination (he had 10, won for cinematography for "Black Narcissus).  Eight years later he was helming "The Girl on a Motorcycle" with Marianne Faithful.  In the 1980's he worked with both Arnold Schwarzenegger ("Conan the Barbarian") and Sylvester Stallone ("Rambo: First Blood Part II").

This eight-six minute documentary is positively jam packed.  The cinematographer famed cinematographer Sven Nykvist called fast *and* good has been treated the same way by his documentarian.  Jack Cardiff was a fun companion and innovative filmmaker who had a wonderful life.

B+
Back To Current Show
Next Show Previous Show
Watch the current Reeling broadcast here!

Home | Reviews and Ratings Archive  | Top 10 | Video | Crew | Article | Links

Reeling has been chosen as a Movie Review Query Engine Top Critic.

MRQE Top Critic Badge