The first cinematographer to ever be awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Oscars, Jack Cardiff may not be a household name the way some of the director's that he's worked for over the years are, but as this documentary proves, he should be. More than just a bunch of talking heads discussing Cardiff's greatness, this film, directed by Craig McCall, examines the importance of Cardiff's career and the absolutely massive achievements he made over the seven decades he worked behind the camera for directors as varied as John Huston to Micheal Powell and Emeric Pressburger to Joseph Mankiewicz and many, many more.
The movie clues us in on Cardiff's personal history, examining how he grew up around stage actors, wound up starring in a few silent films as a child actor, and eventually wound up being trained in the use of Technicolor film stock. This lead to his work behind the camera where he quickly rose to the top of his industry, with 1947's Black Narcissus taking home an Oscar and firmly establishing him as one of the best. He also wound up directing a few features on his own, most notably Girl On A Motorcycle, though he continued to work quite prolifically as a cinematographer thanks to his expertise in lenses, color and lighting. Cardiff's career lasted as long as he wanted it to, and amazingly enough he managed to keep working through 2007 and into his nineties before passing away in 2009 at the age of 94.
So included in this feature length documentary on Cardiff's work are some interesting interviews with people who knew and appreciated him. Martin Scorsese speaks quite a bit about the importance and influence of Cardiff's films, The Red Shoes in particular, while Hollywood royalty like Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall express their admiration not only for his film's but for Cardiff as a person, speaking almost lovingly about their shared experiences with the man. Input from the likes of Charlton Heston, Freddie Francis, Kim Hunter, Richard Fleischer and many more help paint a pretty detailed portrait of what this man meant to the film industry but much of the insight that this movie provides comes from Cardiff himself. Interviewed quite extensively throughout his years, here Cardiff expectedly discusses his work from previous decades but also goes on to express his interest in and appreciation for new technologies in wide use in the film industry of today, chief amongst those being digital filmmaking technology.
Aside from the interviews and, of course, clips from various projects that Cardiff worked on over the years, this documentary also features a wealth of behind the scenes stills and, probably more interesting than that to most viewers, is the 16mm footage that Cardiff shot for personal use while on the sets of various films. As such, we get some behind the scenes footage from his perspective, not the least of which shows Humphrey Bogart on the set of The African Queen. Touchingly, McCall uses clips from the 2001 Academy Awards show, the one where Cardiff took home his Lifetime Achievement Award, to open and close his film. Here Cardiff is not only gracious to accept the honor bestowed upon him but seemingly ecstatic. The look on his face speaks volumes, he's obviously very touched by the recognition given to him by his peers and despite his age, there's a boyish charm to him here. Cardiff loved his work and it shows - his enthusiasm is quite contagious. All in all, Cameraman: The Life & Work of Jack Cardiff isn't just a look at the man's work, but a great summery of his achievements, his life, his relationships with the film community and much more.
Note: This review is based on a test disc that may or may not represent finished, retail product.
Cameraman: The Life & Work of Jack Cardiff looks decent enough on DVD in this 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. There are some minor compression artifacts here and there and some of the archival footage used isn't always in the best of shape (though this is completely understandable) but for the most part, picture quality on Strand's DVD is just fine. Colors are well produced and detail is strong while skin tones look lifelike and natural.
English audio options are supplied in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound with the 5.1 track really just playing around with the score in the rear channels. Regardless, both tracks sound fine and offer clear dialogue and properly balanced levels.
Supplements are generous on this disc, starting off with an Interview With Craig McCall By Ian Christie in which the film scholar asks the director of this documentary about why he wanted to make this project and what it was like getting close to Cardiff himself as the project was evolving. It's quite interesting, as is the ten minute Jack's Behind-The-Scenes Movies, which is Cardiff guiding us through some of the footage he shot in 16mm on various sets. Some of this pops up in the feature, some of it doesn't, but his narration is so charming that you won't mind seeing some of it repeated and this winds up being the best extra on the disc. The Cinematographer And Director Relationship segment is a collection of interviews with Cardiff as well as Alan Parker, Freddie Francis, Charlton Heston, Richard Fleischer and Martin Scorsese who discuss why it's so important for these two important positions to work well together while Working With Three-Strip Technicolor an interesting five minute examination of what is involved in this specific photographic process which Cardiff himself excelled in.
Also included here is a four minute gallery of Jack's Actress Portraits in which we're treated to a display of black and white portraits the man shot of leading ladies like Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall. Rounding out the extras are some Photo Galleries, the film's Original Theatrical Trailer, trailers for a few other Strand Releasing properties, menus and chapter stops.
While it'll help to have a pre-existing infatuation with the technical side of moviemaking before delving in to Cameraman: The Life & Work of Jack Cardiff, the documentary's subject is so kind, charming and enthusiastic, not to mention talented, that anyone who enjoys a good biography should find a lot to enjoy here. Strand's DVD looks and sounds fine and contains some decent extra features as well, making this a well rounded package and one that comes highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.