Pretty good for a man who considered his job to be “nonsense,” in an industry he found “full of hypocrisy and hyperbole.”
Bookended by footage of the man receiving his honorary Academy Award — the first cinematographer to do so — in 2001, “Cameraman: The Life & Work of Jack Cardiff” celebrates his lengthy and influential career. The documentary itself may not be all that special, but the work it focuses on is.
Cardiff shares great stories with director Craig McCall (who irritatingly sits in on several shots), like Marlene Dietrich standing stark naked before him to shoot a bubble-bath scene, or Ava Gardner warning him about a need for extra lighting during her menstrual cycle.
Better yet are sequences from his DP work that still look revolutionary today, particularly the snow duel in 1956’s “War and Peace,” and a huge chunk of 1948’s ballet feature, “The Red Shoes,” of which Martin Scorsese remains a huge fan. Interviewed here, the director calls Cardiff’s work in that film’s fantasy sequences as “moving paintings … that extraordinarily moved, not only visually, but emotionally … and psychologically, too.”
And then there’s a certain blockbuster sequel starring Sylvester Stallone in 1985: “I had a lot of fun on the ‘Rambo’ picture,” says Cardiff.
The man comes off as the kindest, easygoing, levelheaded professional, albeit one whose home movies featured subjects as stunning as Sophia Loren. Any scholar of cinema should see “Cameraman,” but the average Joe may care about a Cardiff primer. Their loss. —Rod Lott