Friday 24 April 2009

Jack Cardiff RIP

Jack Cardiff
Top cinematographer key to the success of many Powell and Pressburger classics
Ronald Bergan
The Guardian, Thursday 23 April 2009
As a cinematographer, Jack Cardiff, who has died aged 94, was known as "the man who makes women look beautiful". Some of the glamorous women whose beauty he accentuated through his lens were Ava Gardner (Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, The Barefoot Contessa), Audrey Hepburn and Anita Ekberg (War and Peace) and Marilyn Monroe (The Prince and the Showgirl). In fact, when Monroe was in London to shoot The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier in 1956, she said of Cardiff: "He's the best cameraman in the world, and I've got him."
Cardiff was certainly one of the best colour cinematographers in the world, whose career in that capacity began with the emergence of Technicolor and continued through the golden (or rainbow) age of that process. As camera operator on Wings of the Morning (1937), Britain's first three-strip Technicolor film, he became a colour expert and photographed many travelogue shorts as well as being second unit cameraman on The Four Feathers (1939).
However, his greatest achievement was as the cinematographer on three of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's best films, A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), which won him an Oscar, and The Red Shoes (1948). Cardiff's dramatic use of colour played an essential part in the success of these films, if only for the splashes of red - the red rose in the first, the nun Deborah Kerr's hair seen in flashback in the second, and Moira Shearer's hair and shoes in the third. Cardiff's view was that a cameraman is "the man who paints the movie".
He kept meticulous notes on the stars. For example: "Watch Lollo's [Gina Lollobrigida] cheeks, and those lips. A false light and they will film badly." "Watch Ava's nose. It has a slight twist and a scar line." Ava, in turn, told Cardiff: "Jack, you must light me carefully when I'm having my period."
Cardiff - whose father was a professional footballer at Watford and then a music-hall comedian, and whose mother was a chorus girl - was born in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, and entered British films as a child actor at the age of four. When he left school at 14, he became a gofer at Elstree studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, and continued as a camera assistant, working his way up to director of photography. He was with the Crown Film Unit of the ministry of information during the second world war, photographing dangerous war zones.
After the war, he was shooting panoramic seascapes for Albert Lewin's surreal Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) in Spain, The African Queen (1951) in the Belgian Congo and The Barefoot Contessa (1954), for which he captured the sunny, hedonistic essence of the Spanish, Italian and French Riviera locations.
In 1958, Cardiff turned to directing, leaving the photography to others. The best of his decently directed pictures was Sons and Lovers (1960), for which Freddie Francis won an Oscar for his black-and-white CinemaScope photography. TEB Clarke's screenplay, much of the dialogue of which came from the DH Lawrence novel, and the performances, particularly those of Trevor Howard and Wendy Hiller, carried it along.
In the same year, Cardiff was in charge of a real stinker. Scent of Mystery used the Smell-O-Vision system by which more than 30 different smells, including garlic, oranges, perfume and coffee, were stored in vials which, on an audio cue on the soundtrack, would disperse throughout the theatre. It contained the first and only olfactory joke in all cinema: when Peter Lorre was drinking coffee, audiences got a whiff of brandy.
After taking two years to develop a script of James Joyce's Ulysses for Jerry Wald at Fox, and having it rejected, he took on The Lion (1962). It had some spectacular location photography (by Ted Scaife) of Mount Kenya and the flora and fauna of Africa, though the tug-of-love plot involving William Holden, Capucine, a young girl, and Zamba in the title role, was rather feeble.
More interesting than such action films as The Liquidator (1965) and The Mercenaries (1967) was The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968), which Cardiff both directed and photographed. Artily erotic, the plot followed Marianne Faithfull on a motorcycle ride from Alsace to Heidelberg to meet her lover, Alain Delon. As she nears his house, the motorcycle becomes more powerful, and she is killed in a crash.
Cardiff then decided to return to cinematography alone, explaining: "I lacked the guts and the bullshit necessary to make more films as director ... I used to get what I wanted more often than not, but I didn't have enough ego to demand it." Again in exotic climes, he showed his versatility as director of photography in Death on the Nile (1978), Conan the Destroyer (1984) and Rambo First Blood Part II (1985) - a long way from the glory days of Powell and Pressburger.
In the late 1980s, Cardiff, who had lived for a while in a mountain retreat in Switzerland, retired to a house in Saffron Walden, Essex, with his third wife, the script consultant Niki O'Donahue. In 1994, he was honoured by the Los Angeles Society of Cinematographers with its international award for outstanding achievement; in 2000 he was appointed OBE and in 2001 he was awarded an honorary Oscar for his contribution to the cinema - not bad for someone who claimed never to have understood the techniques of the camera.
He is survived by Niki and by four sons.
• Jack Cardiff, film director and cinemat-ographer, born 18 September 1914; died 22 April 2009

This article was first published on at 00.01 BST on Thursday 23 April 2009.

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