Saturday, January 7, 2012


Turner Classic Movies devoted an evening to the films of Jack Cardiff, the most painterly of all mainstream cinematographers, including this excellent documentary overview of his achievement by Craig McCall. Watching it made me wish I'd taken precautions to record some of the other films TCM had programmed to mark the occasion. As a cinematography buff, Cardiff had long been in my pantheon and I knew quite a bit of what the film discussed of his work once he became allied with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, but I didn't realize he was the first cameraman to shoot color travelogues in far-flung places like India, giving the entire world its first color images of these exotic places, nor that he was in fact the cameraman of the first feature-length documentary in color.

But of everything covered by this film, what struck me as most meaningful was Cardiff's confession of his penchant for taking still photographs of his leading ladies and his unveiling of literally dozens of never-before-seen, certifiably immortal images of Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, Anita Ekberg, Janet Leigh, and so on, and so on. Watching this film -- with not only these images, but all the most exalting clips from A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, BLACK NARCISSUS, THE RED SHOES, PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN and more -- I was taken very close to a place I haven't felt much since the time I first saw PINOCCHIO in childhood, when I felt so overwhelmed by beauty on the screen, I almost wanted to hide my eyes. The clips from his home movies are illuminating, too; I especially liked the footage he captured of Kirk Douglas practicing his oar dance in THE VIKINGS and falling off once or twice. The interview bytes with Cardiff and a galaxy of stars are mostly terrific (Charlton Heston looks great, fit and poised, but hasn't much more to say than "film is the art form of the 20th century and you can't make a movie without a cameraman"); it's a testament to the duration of this film's long production that more than half the interviewees are now dead, Cardiff himself (who died in 2009) outlasting many of them.

When the climactic montage of Cardiff's directorial credits omitted any reference to THE MUTATIONS (1974), which would have looked like a bottoming-out in context, I couldn't help thinking of the extent to which Mario Bava's career paralleled that of Cardiff, except that Bava hid his immense light under a generic bushel and had no ambitions other than to keep working as far from the limelight as possible. With Donald Pleasence in the cast, THE MUTATIONS would have looked like a career highlight in Bava's filmography, and I'd wager it would have been a better film, as well.

Viewed on Turner Classic Movies.


  1. It is a terrific documentary indeed. I recently purchased the Blu Ray. My only want would have been a little time spent with GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE, one of my most favorite guilty pleasures. GOAM is in desperate need of a Blu Ray release!

  2. Looking forward to watching this.

  3. I just watched A Matter of Life and Death recently and was amazed at how gorgeous the color cinematography was for a 40s film...

  4. Thanks so much for making me aware of this documentary, as well as Cardiff's work in general. Michael Powell has always been my favorite director, and I thought I'd seen everything that reflected his Archers period sensibility -- the late exquisite *Bluebeard's Castle* (post-Archer) as well as *Black Narcissus* -- but now I've been introduced to the real source of that painterly artifice in dozens of flicks I never knew existed. I also love Cardiff's reserved otherworldly demeanor, like that of a priest who marries the church, only C's devotion was to creating and savoring perfect images of beautiful women. He reminds me of Joseph Cornell in his reverent presentation and undertone of intense desire.

  5. DO WISH the documentary included SOME NOTICE of the late master cinematographer as a director. Particularly DARK OF THE SUN which is a vastly UNDERRATED achievement in balls-to-the-wall action cinema, and contains wonderful performances from Rod Taylor, Yvette Mimieux, Kenneth More and even Jim Brown. Also a great LONE film score (as near as I can determine) from Jaques Loussier.