September 16 was the birthday of Jack Cardiff. Cardiff was a painter, photographer, and movie director, but he is probably best known for cinematography. If you love the visual lushness of old Technicolor movies, chances are good that cinematographer Jack Cardiff was probably responsible.
Cardiff’s career began as a young boy in the silent film days (certainly no Technicolor back then) and rose through the film making ranks for the next fifty years, ultimately receiving an Honorary Oscar in 2001 for his contribution to cinema.
I really did not know much about Jack Cardiff, nor his work, until I watched the 2010 documentary film about him and his contributions to movies. In case you are interested, the documentary is: Cameraman The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff . The documentary is available on YouTube if you do not have access to rent.
As I watched the documentary, it did not take long to realize Cardiff was extraordinary with the camera. His lighting techniques enriched those beautiful colors and enhanced the stories of the films he worked on. It would be easy to attribute those lush Technicolors to the film, but there is more to it than that. To say it was only Technicolor may be akin to telling a photographer they must have a “good camera” to get the images they are making. (Don’t get me started on that line of thinking because I could probably turn my rebuttal into a series of posts.) Attributing what he accomplished solely to the film used is minimizing his years of studying light, as well as his ingenuity creating objects and sets, to achieve just the right lighting for a scene.
To learn more about Cardiff, I secured a copy of his book, Magic Hour: A Life in Movies by Jack Cardiff. Oh, the adventures he went on and oh, the tales he tells. I found Cardiff’s life quite interesting. Cardiff seems to be one of those rare souls who really lived life to the full.
Do you want to see a movie that showcases Cardiff’s magical lighting? May I suggest The Red Shoes? The lighting and color were so interesting to me, I realized it had distracted me from the story. I had to watch it a second time to concentrate on the story being told in the film.
So, which one of Jack Cardiff’s movies is your favorite? And, did you notice how he sculpted the light? Leave a comment and let me know.