In my tribute to Jack Cardiff, I didn’t really mention his career as a director. There is a reason for this: most of his films are not very good. But AICN did draw my attention to one thing. Cardiff’s best known movie is probably Girl on a Motorcycle, which starred Marianne Faithfull, Alain Delon and, bizarrely, Marius Goring, who’d co-starred in Cardiff’s Powell / Pressburger films. Now, Girl on a Motorcycle is a perfectly serviceable title, particularly for its era, and was good enough to get the movie launched in Britain. But in America it had a different name. I’ll leave you to figure out which sold more tickets.
Jack Cardiff died today, aged 94. He was one of the greatest British cinematographers, one of the last survivors from the silent era: his first film (as an actor) was My Son, My Son in 1918. His work includes some of the greatest movies ever made (The African Queen) as well as — let’s be honest — some absolute stinkers (Rambo: First Blood Part II, The Dogs of War, Hitchcock’s awful Under Capricorn), but his indelible legacy to British cinema is his work for Powell and Pressburger, including Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes and my all time favourite picture, A Matter Of Life And Death. These extraordinary movies have a vivid, swooning poetry that’s instantly recognisable: nothing else in cinema looks like them, sounds like them or feels like them, and a great part of that is due to Cardiff. So here in tribute are a few examples of his finest work: watch, admire and envy. First, from Black Narcissus:
The brilliant opening sequence from A Matter of Life and Death:
And here’s a (slightly dubious) trailer for The African Queen: