Thursday, June 9, 2011

CAMERA MAN: THE LIFE AND WORK OF JACK CARDIFF (2011)

Directed by Craig McCall


Where & When: Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood, CA. June 3, 2011 7:10PM


If you are at all interested in the history of cinema, then this fascinating new documentary, "Camera Man" about the work of Jack Cardiff is a must see.

Jack Cardiff was a very influential British cinematographer who was best known for one of the first to expand on the use of color in the early days of film and to experiment with new ways to apply it to help tell the story.

He began his career as a child actor in a number of silent movies as both of his parents also worked as extras. At fifteen, Cardiff began work as a camera assistant at British International Pictures which eventually lead to him becoming a camera operator. His lucky break came in 1943 while he was working as a 2nd unit camera man on directors, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's film, "The Life & Death of Colonel Blimp". Powell was so impressed with this young man that he decided to take a chance on him and hire him as the cinematographer on their next color film.

The film was the WW II romantic-fantasy, "A Matter of Life & Death" (retitled "Stairway To Heaven" in the U.S.) in 1946 with it being a complex production due to difficult visual effects and the use of new Technicolor cameras but Cardiff was up to the challenge by cleverly using both color and black & white footage and coming up with creative ways to shoot the complicated sequences. The film, now considered one of the greatest British films ever made, was a success which lead this team to create a string of innovative and revolutionary works that showed the true potential of how color can be used in cinema in their future collaborations such as, "Black Narcissus" (1947) and "The Red Shoes", (1948) the beloved ballet film which was not truly appreciated at the time of it's release because it was not filmed like a conventional dance film and not many understood it's artistic merits.

Cardiff soon started directing with his biggest triumph being "Sons & Lovers" (1960) earning seven Oscar nominations and won Cardiff a Golden Globe for Best Director but despite this success, he always remained a cinematographer for hire. He won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 73rd Academy Awards, being the first cinematographer to ever do so.

Mr. Cardiff, who passed away in 2009 at the age of ninety-four, had participated with director Craig McCall on this documentary for over seventeen years and includes interviews with many colleagues and admirers, some whom have since passed on as well, such as Martin Scorsese, Charlton Heston, Lauren Bacall, Kirk Douglas, film editor, Thelma Schoonmaker who was married to the late director, Michael Powell and Moira Shearer, the star of "The Red Shoes".

This film's high point is seeing the actual breathtaking clips from many of his films including details on how he achieved some of these dazzling shots. What is truly amazing is the sheer power of them, even when taken out of the context of a particular movie. Jack Cardiff was a true artist, in fact painters such as Van Gogh were his inspiration to help him create some of his beautiful vibrant images.

"Camera Man" is a fairly straight-forward documentary but still very engaging as it reminds audiences how important Jack Cardiff was to the modern cinema and how he changed the conception on what was truly possible to do with the moving image.