Wednesday, April 22, 2009
RIP Jack Cardiff
Some years ago the magazine I once edited, Lighting Dimensions, ran a terrific interview with the cinematographer and director, whose career behind the camera spanned generations of cinema. My friend and colleague John Calhoun did his customary outstanding job with the text; what's missing from this web version, besides cleaner copy, are pictures. And in Cardiff's case, images told us so much.
So many outstanding credits as DP; some of my favorites include the Oscar-winning Black Narcissus in 1947 (just awesome use of color), 1948's The Red Shoes (ditto), 1951's The African Queen, the 1956 War and Peace (Oscar nomination), 1958's The Vikings (splendid fun), and 1980's The Dogs of War. His lighting seemed to sparkle off every rain-soaked leaf in the jungle--and every speck of sweat on Stallone--for Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985).
He received a fourth cinematography Oscar nod for 1961's luminous Fanny, a year after receiving a directing Oscar nomination for the superb adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, beautifully shot by his contemporary and kindred spirit Freddie Francis. Both had spotty histories behind the megaphone, but Cardiff's yielded a personal favorite, the cold-eyed, ruthless and thrilling mercenary adventure Dark of the Sun (1968), with his frequent star Rod Taylor. He also directed the "Smell-O-Vision" gimmick picture Scent of Mystery (1960), took over for an ailing John Ford on 1965's Young Cassidy, with Taylor, put Alain Delon and a nude Marianne Faithfull on wheels in 1968's The Girl on a Motorcycle, and called it quits as a helmer with 1974's fun schlocker The Mutations, with Donald Pleasence cross-pollinating man/plant hybrids. Typically, in his DVD commentary on The Mutations (available as The Freakmaker), Cardiff doesn't condescend to the assignment; equally typically, frustratingly so, neither Sons and Lovers (I think the best Lawrence on film) nor Dark of the Sun are available on R1 DVD. (Motorcycle is to be reissued next month.)
Cardiff received an honorary Oscar in 2001. He never really stopped working in some capacity, and advised Sony on its recent, gorgeous transfer of Michael Powell's A Matter of Life and Death (1946). There's an anecdote about him in my Popdose review of the DVD, which shows him to be warm and gently impish right up till the end.
(UPDATE: Director Ken Annakin, also 94, died the same day as Cardiff. Duly noted.)