Great Cinematographers, Part 4: Jack Cardiff

Jack Cardiff (1914-2009): no one else could capture images quite the way he could. He was a true master of light, finding beauty in people, places and things the world over. If you ever get a chance, watch the documentary Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010), which is a must for fans of his and for fans of the cinematographic process. While I must admit I have not yet seen one of his most highly praised films, The Red Shoes (1948), knowing the rest of his body of work has made me a lifelong devotee.

A Matter of Life and Death (1946, dirs. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) – I could choose any clip from this perfect film and it would be a stunning example of Cardiff’s skill in either color or black-and-white since he uses both to fantastic effect in this film. (Just try not to mind this clip’s French subtitles.) There are so many things that go into making a film like this one superb, but the cinematography is especially key. In this scene, David Niven is sure that his plane crash has killed him and that he must be in heaven; he wanders around the moors, which photograph so beautifully, wondering where he “reports.” The setting works wonderfully.

Black Narcissus (1947, dirs. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) – Again, try not to mind the French subtitles. (I do wonder why that’s a tendency for YouTube videos of Powell and Pressburger films.) It’s amazing to realize that Black Narcissus was filmed on sets in England, given what the results look like. I wish I could have found the last shots of the film; I love the way Cardiff captured water droplets on green, green leaves. Still, any part of Narcissus is worth your time. Take note of the way Cardiff captured natural light (or the appearance of it) and these lovely shots too.

Death on the Nile (1978, dir. John Guillermin) – My favorite part is from 9:40 to 14:06. I love the sunlight captured behind Lois Chiles on top of the pyramid as she looks down at Mia Farrow. This is probably my favorite cinematic adaptation of any Agatha Christie story.

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