Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 August, 2010, 12:00am

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff
Director: Craig McCall

When Jack Cardiff was awarded an honorary Oscar in 2001, the Academy praised the British cinematographer - a pioneer in the use of Technicolour in film and one of the driving forces behind films such as The Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes (which will be shown tomorrow at the Science Museum in its restored version), War and Peace and, incredibly, Conan the Destroyer - as 'a master of light and colour'.

Craig McCall has done his career justice with a documentary 17 years in the making and only finished and released a year after Cardiff's death last year, aged 94. Weaving interviews - with Cardiff and the many directors, actors and cinematographers who had worked with him - with stunning snippets of the films he helped to bring to fruition, Cameraman is as much a homage to Cardiff's work as it is a chronicle of the evolution of filming techniques in the 20th century.

At the start of the film, Cardiff is asked how he sees his job; his answer is that it's 'a nonsensical job' in a universe 'filled with hypocrisy and hyperbole'. This candid response is backed up by an anecdote he recounts later in the documentary about once walking the red carpet at a film premiere and hearing someone refer to him as 'a nobody'.

His anguish is made all the understandable by McCall's deft illustration of the man and his work: entirely self-taught - he began as a clapper boy and worked his way up the ranks - Cardiff shows he's more than just a technician. In the documentary, he recalls how he convinced the Technicolour company to select him for a training programme by stressing on his 'great knowledge of paintings' rather than technical expertise, which he told his interviewers was 'zero'. His explanations are backed by his remarks about his inspirations - Impressionism, Vermeer, Van Gogh - and then a comparison of their paintings with some of the images Cardiff produced on screen.

McCall also draws out Cardiff's recollections of working with others and the dynamics in such collaborations. There are tributes from those he has inspired: Martin Scorsese, for example, talks about how Cardiff's way of portraying ballet in The Red Shoes impacted on his way of showing boxers in action in Raging Bull.

Extras: interview with McCall; short featurettes; Cardiff's portraits of actresses; production stills of Cardiff at work.