Cameraman: The Life and Works of Jack Cardiff DVD Review

Jack Cardiff, the first cinematographer to win an honourary Oscar. From his beginnings as a child actor, to his time as a cameraman, from his directorial outings to his late work as a cinematographer, Cardiff lived and breathed cinema in a way that was so obvious in all of his works. This documentary gives a rapid run-through of his career, and some wonderful insights into a truly cinematic mind. The paltry runtime of just over 80 minutes scarcely does justice to the volume of amazing material and the plethora of inspiring stories contained in Cardiff's life. His work with the late, great Michael Powell is covered in great detail, as is his love of painting and how it affected his skill in lighting, we also receive a wonderful series of anecdotes on some of the greatest stars ever to have lived: Audrey Hepburn, Kirk Douglas, Marilyn Monroe, they all appear and play a part in his life at some point. Many more aspects of his career, notably his directing (which spanned over a dozen titles) are passed by quickly, albeit accompanied by great plaudits from Martin Scorsese (who contributes significantly to the film). Luckily, the extras on the DVD have some remedy for this. A short piece about the relationship between cinematographer and director delves further, in an abstract way, into the issues faced by a man whose genius is best remembered in his camera roles rather than directorial ones; and the extent of that genius is further explained in another extra that looks at the art of working with three strip technicolour. These extras serve to highlight what is perhaps the best aspect of this film. That is how it manages to use the exceptional life of Jack Cardiff, and his exceptional work, as a vibrant piece of film history. Each anecdote, each excerpt from his work, and each word in his interviews is an invaluable and exciting insight into the innovations, and the labours of love, that made cinema what it is today.

This is not to say that Cameraman is merely a film for tekkies, geeks and historians, oh no. There are several more elements which add an enormously wide appeal. The first is the large section devoted to Cardiff's passion for art and painting. By delving into this love, we are treated not only to a beautifully romantic view of the occupation of the cinematographer, but to an insight into an exceptional artistic mind. Watching and listening to Cardiff, it is impossible not to be entranced by his knowledge, his excitement and his enthusiasm; and every now and then it's an amazing feeling to stop and think that the man talking on screen is 90 years old, and has all of the vibrancy and energy of a man less than a quarter of his age. There's also the matter of the stellar supporting cast around Cardiff. The aforementioned anecdotes are an array of amusing, moving and insightful glimpses into a world that has long passed. Errol Flynn's excruciating battle with alcoholism, Marilyn Monroe's tragic end, these are just two of the many pivotal moments witnessed by Cardiff - and his relaying of these tales is a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the humanity of these stars that nobody can fail to be moved by. This is a fantastic film that is a must-see for any self-respecting cinephile, and a brilliant watch for anyone who enjoys a good movie. The bumper collection of extras, which add to the already great value of this film to anyone wanting to learn about the medium, are capped off with Jack Cardiff's actress portraits, his behind-the-scenes movies from some classics, and an interview with Craig McCall. Cameraman: The Life and Works of Jack Cardiff is available on DVD now.
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Michael J Edwards hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.