Thursday, January 19, 2012

Cameraman:The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff

Release Date: 2010
Production Company: Modus Operandi
Director: Craig McCall
Run time: 86 minutes
Seen on: Turner Classic Movies Channel 28; showing again Friday 4:15 am
Recommended: Yes, it made me want to watch more classic films
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 96%

This doc describes the career of late British cinematographer Jack Cardiff. He was still working at 91. He said he wouldn't be working for long. "Another ten years and I'll have to take it easy I think."

Jack began as a child actor in silent films. His parents were extras in films. He believed that he attended around 300 schools in his youth, but had an interesting source of inspiration. He was inspired to read, and was mostly self taught.

His interest in art got him chosen as one of the first Englishmen to be taught the new films process of Technicolor. The doc follows the devlopment of his career and British filmmaking as its own art form. It includes interviews with Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, and Martin Scorcese. It contains just long enough clips to tantalize you to watch more. Most of the films I had never heard of, let alone seen.

Examples of his work include Black Narcisscus, The Red Shoes, and The African Queen. Black Narcissus, amazingly all done inside a studio. He describes using light like a painter, in a simple form. The Red Shoes, a film about ballet which does not film the ballet in full, but rather show what is going on inside the dancer's head. This film technique influenced Scorcese in Raging Bull. He created "paintings that moved." He also worked with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in The African Queen, shot on location in the Belgian Congo.

"No matter how good a camerman thinks he is, he's got to serve the director."

He went on to direct films in the sixties and seventies. Surprisingly, after he directed about a dozen films he went back to cinematography. He even shot Rambo: First Blood Part II and Conan the Barbarian. His transition into the digital age took a lot of the effects out of his hands. He created some of his first effects by breathing on the lens or painting the lens to create the effect of fog.

Jack Cardiff's career spanned the range of film history, from silent films to sound, and from the advent Technicolor to the digital age. Through this documentary, one can see the influence of art on film. This documentary does what all great documentaries should do: inspire me to learn more. I now want to watch his films to see his use of color and light. I want to see the films that were at the forefront of their field.

It also poses an interesting question, "Is film art, even though it is populist?"

Fun fact: the film clappers used at the beginning of a take were used to synchronize the image and sound.

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