Remembering Jack Cardiff

Some (or maybe many) of you might be asking, “Who is Jack Cardiff?  Why should I care?” and perhaps after reading this, you still won’t care but if you truly love movies, you’ll appreciate what this man accomplished in a very long and productive career.  Jack Cardiff, who died yesterday at the age of 94, was one of the greatest cinematographers to work in the business.  In over eight decades in the business, he acted (briefly), directed, wrote, and edited but mostly shot some of the most beautiful movies ever made.  While he did his best work in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s with the directing team of Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell, he ended up shooting everyone from Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando to Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  He directed a 1970’s horror (The Mutations) and a psychedelic erotic biker movie (The Girl On the Motorcycle).  He won two Oscars, one for Black Narcissus and an honorary one, and many might wax poetic about the Powell-Pressburger years or The African Queen but the period of his career, I would like to talk most about is what many would deem his creatively diminished years, his later years.  During the period in question, he shot the following, Rambo II, Conan the Destroyer, Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye, Tai Pan and two television mini-series.  Why does this period interest me most?  It comes down to the idea that it doesn’t matter how crappy the movie is, you can still make it look good.  The cinematographer has it good.  He can show up on the first day of shooting, pre-production completed, tell others where and how to set up the shots and when the filming is done, he can go home.  He doesn’t have to search for locations, find the money, deal with the ‘talent’, sit in on readings, edit or promote the movie.  No press junkets for him.  No matter how bad the movie is, how excorable the script is or unbearable the acting, a good cinematographer will simply be praised for the look of the film or not mentioned at all.  He escapes unscathed.  And one thing that can be said for the movies Cardiff made during this period: they all looked great.  So I do recommend you watch A Matter Of Life and Death, or Black Narcissus, movies in which everything works and so Jack Cardiff’s work is part of a seamless whole but if you are more of a populist movie person, then watch Rambo II or Conan the Destroyer again, but this time, notice how beautiful it looks.

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