2010, Movies

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010, Craig McCall)

Cameraman is a fascinating but idiosyncratic look at one of the first technicolor cameramen in film, the first person to be awarded a lifetime achievement Oscar for cinematography.

Like so many documentaries, the style of this one is a little odd. There’s a mixture of film types – it’s about cinematography, get it! – and there are some artsy shots meant to call attention to the film itself, rather than Cardiff. They also use that all-to-common trope in semi-biographical documentaries, where they keep jumping back and forth from the present and his career. This is a trope that is overdone, to put it mildly, and I’ve never really been sure what it adds to a story, though I get that it sounds good in the conception stage.

But there’s some really interesting stuff in here, if you like film or the history of film. Cardiff was an inventive cameraman, doing things I thought were only the purview of avant garde short film directors. He did some really crazy stuff with lens painting and stuff like that, back when special effects didn’t exist like they do now.

I am not really a fan of most of the movies I’ve seen that Cardiff made, though this is no indictment of Cardiff himself. But the story of Cardiff is a good reminder of the technical limitations of film in much of the 20th century and going over some of his work, particularly with Powell Pressburger, where he helped created a ridiculously over-saturated style that was very influential on many, many later filmmakers. (I haven’t loved their films when I’ve watched them, but it’s also hard given how bright the are, and how much of the power would have been in just experiencing rich colour on film for the first time. That is lost to history.)

So this is of interest if you are interested in the history of film, or film techniques but I’m not sure it’s quite compelling enough if you’re not interested in those things.


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