Cameraman: The Life And Work Of Jack Cardiff

Cameraman: The Life And Work Of Jack Cardiff


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

At the beginning of this affectionate and fascinating documentary on one of the 'hidden' heroes of cinema, Dustin Hoffman is seen giving cinematographer and director Jack Cardiff an honorary Oscar. "For those of us who are 70 years old or younger," he says, "Jack Cardiff was shooting film before we were born." That is a serious chunk of time, and it makes Craig McCall's achievement in documenting so much of Cardiff's work here so clearly and concisely, all the more impressive.

Cardiff began his love affair with cinema as a child actor in 1918, and McCall captures him still working on film, at age 91, in 2005. "In another ten years, I'll have to take it easy," Cardiff says, with a twinkling humour that shines continually through the interviews with him in this film. Although Cardiff has sadly since passed away - in April 2009, at age 94 - his presence here is the main reason that this film about his life is so compelling.

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McCall let's Cardiff talk and, in doing so, paints a portrait not only of the man and his work - which stretches from classics such as A Matter Of Life And Death, Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes and The African Queen through to Rambo - but also a snapshot of those who he worked with. From anecdotes about Marlene Dietrich shooting a bath scene in the nude, to Orson Welles cheekily acquiring a mink-lined coat on one film so he could sneak off with it and use it on another, Cardiff offers the sort of insightful and fun, human observations that are often overlooked by documentarians intent on capturing only the where and when of careers.

McCall has a much looser approach that pays off handsomely. He draws on Cardiff's life-long love of painting to adopt a similarly impressionistic style, brushing broad sweeps of anecdote and recollection about the cameraman on to his canvas to create a complex and emotionally engaging picture, rather than merely sketching out a mathematical diagram of his achievements.

McCall also assembles an impressive selection of stars from the past and present to help chart Cardiff's career. Luminaries including John Mills, Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall all line up to pay tribute, while director Martin Scorsese - who oversaw the restoration of The Red Shoes - is on hand to pay testimony to his lasting legacy for a younger generation. The film serves as a primer for Cardiff's work - one that will surely lead to a surge of interest in his films. But it is also a celebration of the art of cinematography, particularly in a pre-digital age, where simple acts of ingenuity such as breathing or painting on a camera lens were able to create 'special' effects that have stood the test of time. Sweet and moving, but be warned, this film could seriously damage your finances, as it's likely to prompt an irresistible urge to rush out and buy Cardiff's entire back catalogue.

Reviewed on: 05 Jun 2010
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Documentary about the work of the prolific cinema- tographer/ director. Read our with director Craig McCall.
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