"He gave me half my performance with the lighting," says actress Kathleen Byron of cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who shot her in 1947's Black Narcissus. A rebuke to style-versus-substance segregationists, these words pay tribute to the star of Craig McCall's documentary, a soapbox for the wizened eminence to explain the innovative effects he achieved with a Technicolor camera the size of a sedan while narrating his epoch-spanning career. Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff opens at O Cinema this weekend.
The son of music hall actors, Cardiff began in movies in 1918, as a child performer. An autodidact whose "film school" was the National Gallery, he trained as England's first color cinematographer, shot Narcissus and other legendary collaborations with Michael Powell, directed Sons and Lovers and several ingenious, scurrilous B-movies, then returned to cinematography to immortalize the sweat-beaded torsos of Stallone and Schwarzenegger in the '80s.
Cardiff shows off a gallery of famous co-workers on his wall and counts
the casualties: "He's dead, she's dead . . ." You can do the same with
interviewees in Cameraman, 17 years in the making: Directors Peter Yates
and Richard Fleischer, DP Freddie Francis, Charlton Heston, and
Cardiff himself, whose inextricable life and work ended in 2009.
Director Alan Parker (still living) nicely describes the tightrope
teeter of Cardiff's hothouse imagery: "It's great art, and then it will
be kitsch, and then it will be art again." Or is he summing up cinema
Cameraman screens Saturday and Sunday at O Cinema (90 NW 29th St., Miami) Tickets cost $7.50 to $10.50. Visit o-cinema.org.