Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (Craig McCall, 2010) I love films about cinematography and there are damned few of them; I tend to come away with a new appreciation of light and vision, and the world looks fresh and new, bright and awash with color.  It happens so rarely when I watch films that the world seems different—the films of Orson Welles or Nicholas Roeg do that to me...and films about cinematography.*

When I saw Cameraman... pop up on the Netflix queue, I jabbed the Play button immediately.  The work of Jack Cardiff (the subject of the film) spanned a career of 70 years and the palettes of black and white through to color and technicolor—there's a difference—(and from the silver screen to the painter's canvas, sometimes employing both).  A cinematographer for much of his career, he also directed in the 60's and 70's and returned to cinematography later.  But he worked with the camera from the era of Things to Come to photographing Rambo: First Blood Part II, and worked with directors as diverse as Michael Powell, Laurence Olivier, Alfred Hitchcock, Henry Hathaway, John Houston, the Boulting Brothers, William Knightley, Richard Fleischer, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, King Vidor, Mike Newell, John Irvin and Joshua Logan.  Cardiff raised the level of everything he worked on and directors knew he had the eye of a painter and the craftsmanship of an engineer.  He was truly a renaissance man.

Documentarian Craig McCall shows it all and knows how to get great quotes from the man and anecdotes about the various personalities he worked with, the directors he worked for and the subjects he photographed, literally a man in the middle who knew how to make both sides look their best.  Some of the surviving directors give testimony, as well as Martin Scorsese, Powell's editor-wife Thelma Schoonmaker, Lauren Bacall, Charlton Heston, Kirk Douglas (a rare post-stroke interview), John Mills, as well as Moira Shearer, Kim Hunter and Kathleen Byron.

In showing the history of this one man, it is also a fascinating overview of the entire art and history of the cinema as well, and how the well-composed image is as timeless as beauty itself. This is gorgeous to look at, and very educational and highly, highly recommended.

* One of my favorites is Visions of Light, which was produced with the ASC Union and has a broad spectrum of subject matter and timeline, as does Camerman.  You can't do a film about lighting movies without mentioning Dietrich, and I'll always remember that 45 degree angle trick.

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