Thursday, April 23, 2009


Jack Cardiff (1914-2009)

By Edward Copeland
Granted, I've been under the weather of late, but I don't know how someone or something didn't alert me to the passing of the great cinematographer Jack Cardiff yesterday at 94. Perusing the headlines of Web versions of major newspapers and Google's conglomeration, there has been no mention. By God, we can find plenty of space to go on about that 47-year-old woman who shocked Simon Cowell because she knew how to sing. This is pathetic and sad. A true great artist has died, but the mainstream media has determined that a short segment on a British reality show is more important. Screw them. I'm here to salute a Brit with decades of evidence of real talent.

In the AP story on Cardiff's passing, they mentioned what Martin Scorsese once said about Cardiff being able "to paint with the camera." As it would happen, yesterday I was watching director Albert Lewin's Pandora and the Flying Dutchman for a long-term project I'm working on. I didn't pay much attention to the credits, but I was immediately struck by the look, which almost reminded me of some of the Powell-Pressburger masterpieces. There was a good reason for that. Jack Cardiff was the d.p. Of course, his true crowning achievements were his work with Powell and Pressburger, specifically the great 1947 Black Narcissus and the exquisite 1948 The Red Shoes. His first collaboration with the fabled team was A Matter of Life and Death also known as Stairway to Heaven. It isn't that much of an overstatement to say that Cardiff contributed to the Powell-Pressburger reputation as much as the filmmakers themselves. They made countless other great films that Cardiff didn't film, but his contribution to Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes were in many ways greater than the filmmakers themselves. The pure beauty of the images were so hypnotizing in their colors and light, shadow and shadings, that at times they could overwhelm the stories in a way I can't think of cinematography doing in any other great films. Sure, that's easy to do in lesser films when a viewer is trying to find distractions, but when the film doesn't suffer and keeps its high quality, that's a feat. He truly showed off what you could do with Technicolor.

Cardiff's great work wasn't limited to that directing team. He worked with Hitchcock on Under Capricorn and Huston on The African Queen. He worked with Mankiewicz on The Barefoot Contessa and Vidor on War and Peace.

His lengthy career included work on films that I would have never connected him to such as Death on the Nile, Conan the Destroyer and Rambo: First Blood Part II.

Cardiff also directed a good number of films, the most notable of which was probably 1960's Sons and Lovers, which was nominated for best picture and earned Cardiff a directing nomination. Cinematographer Freddie Francis even won for his work on it.

Cardiff's cinematography only earned Oscar nominations three times, though he did win for Black Narcissus. His other nominations were for War and Peace and 1961's Fanny. The Academy did bestow an honorary Oscar upon Cardiff as a "master of color of light" at its 73rd ceremony.

RIP Mr. Cardiff.

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The L.A. Times has a good obit.
Thanks Edwards for reporting the news to all of us. As an avid e-news follower I didn't know about this until your post. Jack Cardiff was a great cinematographer and more worthy on mention than 99% of what is considered to be entertainment news today.

I always look forward to your posts when they arrive.
His honorary Oscar was a really special moment. It's too rare that that kind of mainstream attention is given to a DP's -- a "technical" category. Nothing technical about Cardiff's work.
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