Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff

Synopsis: In 2001 Jack Cardiff (1914-2009) became the first director of photography in the history of the Academy Awards to win an Honorary Oscar. But the first time he clasped the famous statuette in his hand was a half-century earlier when his Technicolor camerawork was awarded for Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus. Beyond John Huston's The African Queen and King Vidor's War and Peace, the films of the British-Hungarian creative duo (The Red Shoes and A Matter of Life and Death too) guaranteed immortality for the renowned cameraman whose career spanned seventy years.
Director(s): Craig McCall
Production: Independent Pictures
Rotten Tomatoes:
86 min

Good evening.

For those of us here tonight

that are 70 years old or younger,

Jack Cardiff was shooting film

before we were born.

I don't do many interviews.

But when I was invited to speak

about Jack Cardiff, my friend,

I couldn't resist,

because Jack Cardiff

is amazing guy.

Every time I saw certain names,

and one of the names

that kept cropping up was Cardiff.

Every time I saw these names, I knew

I was in for something very special.

And I began to have a very strong

affinity towards British cinema,

because of my recognition

of Cardiff's name, actually.

The way a movie is photographed

creates a mood,

and creates the mood of the movie,

so that the audience is prepared

for the kind of movie it's going to be.

Cinematography is central to film.

Motion pictures is...

is the art form of the 20th century,

and you can't do them

without the camera.

Going over to Bogie, he's dead.

She's dead, she's dead, she's dead.

She's alive.

I'm just alive.

It's fantastic, isn't it?

- You've outlived them all.

- Yeah.


I don't know. Do you think

it's a tragic industry to be in sometimes?

No, I don't think so, I think

it's a nonsensical thing...job to be in,

because it's full of, um...

full of hypocrisy, hyperbole.

Just about everything you can think of.

At this moment

your room is still not ready.

- Thank you.

- Your name?

If anybody said, "Who is that guy? "

because I don't think anybody

really knows who I am,

I'd say, "Well, I used to be

a stand-in for Frank Sinatra."

- That was made 50 years ago.

- Cinquante ans.

How are you?

Pleased to meet you.

- Nice to see you.

- Hello.

Come up a bit on this one,

and they're putting on a narrow one

on the number four.

How old are you now?

A couple of weeks ago, I was 91.

- And you're still working?

- Yes, well, not for long.

Another ten years,

and I'll have to take it easy, I think.

- Can you put it on now?

- Yes, sir.

Where you are now with the smoke.

That's it.

- When did you begin, Jack?

- In this business?

Er...well, I started in 19...

As a kid actor.

That's a long way back, isn't it?

And that's myself

when I was about five years of age.

- You'd already been in a movie.

- Yes, I had.

Do you remember, as a child,

the first film you acted in?

Very, very fuzzily. I know

that it was called "My Son, My Son".

I was four years of age,

and it was a silent picture, of course.

The director used to shout

the instructions through the megaphone.

"Now smile a bit, look over to her.

You love her. Come on, you do this."

That was...that was easy, you know.

In between stage shows,

my mother and father

would work as extras sometimes.

The standard rate of pay in those days,

the extras got one guinea a day.

And there was something like,

I don't know, 150 or 200 extras.

They were paid at the end of the day

by filing past a little booth.

After a while,

they realised what they could do,

they'd get to the end of the queue

and they'd change hats,

or put on a different coat,

and they'd go by

and they'd take another guinea.

They were making a fortune

until they were found out.

The queue was filing by for hours

collecting guineas.

I had a different home every week.

I went to about 300 schools in my youth

and learnt practically nothing.

So where did you pick up

all your skills?

I read a pornographic book

by Frank Harris.

But in between the porn, there was

all these great names he mentioned.

He'd met all these great writers

and painters and musicians.

And I went out to Foyles

and bought all the books he mentioned

in his book, and I read the lot.

That started it,

and I kept on reading ever since.

So you learned

in between bits of pornography?


The first job I had was really

a kind of runner boy. I was...

The director had

some kind of flatulence problem.

He was...

he had to be given Vichy water.

I had to hand him fresh, cold

Vichy water at any time of the day,

so I had to sort of have it all ready.

That was a silent picture.

And then the next picture

was the beginning of sound.

Hitchcock was in the next stage.

When sound films first came out,

they had to be, obviously, synchronised,

and to do that we had clappers.

which was just two pieces of wood

that did that,

and then you'd put the sound

against the picture as it closed.

And the first clappers, they thought

it was such an important function,

that they gave it to the director,

and he would solemnly

announce the scene

and then clap and sit down

and say, "Action."

It was considered a very vital thing.

But after a while, he found

it was a bit of a bore doing that,

so they put the job with the young

clapper boy, as he was called.

He was a number boy, and he became

a clapper boy, and I used to do that.

While I was at B&D Studios,

I was working on British quota pictures,

which had to be completed

in two to three weeks.

I was then operating the camera,

and you couldn't make any mistakes

cos they'd never do another take,

there wasn't time or money.

Korda brought over

a lot of very good people

and, I think, was instrumental in founding

the sort of British school, if you like.

I mean, he gave people the opportunity

to learn from masters of their craft.

Run, run, Orlando.

A lot of fascinating stars

were coming over, and big directors,

and, what was most important,

very good top Hollywood cameramen...

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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