Jack Cardiff, OBE, BSC (18 September 1914 – 22 April 2009) was a British cinematographer, director and photographer.
His career spanned the development of cinema, from silent film, through early experiments in Technicolor to filmmaking in the 21st century. He was best known for his influential colour cinematography for directors such as Powell and Pressburger, Huston and Hitchcock.
In 2000 he was awarded an OBE and in 2001 he was awarded an Honorary Oscar for his contribution to the cinema.
Jack Cardiff's work is reviewed in detail in the documentary film: Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010).
Cardiff was born in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, the son of Florence and John Joseph Cardiff, music hall entertainers. He worked as an actor from an early age, both in the music hall and in a number of silent films: My Son, My Son (1918), Billy's Rose (1922), The Loves of Mary, Queen of Scots (1923) and Tiptoes (1927). At 15 he began working as a camera assistant, clapper boy and production runner for British International Pictures, including Hitchcock's The Skin Game (1931).
In 1935, Cardiff graduated to camera operator and occasional cinematographer, working mostly for London Films. He was the first to shoot a film in Britain in Technicolor: Wings of the Morning (1937). When the war began he worked as a cinematographer on public information films. He did a number of films on India where the British wanted to showcase the new capital city of Delhi.
The turning point in his career was as a 2nd unit cameraman on Powell & Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943); they were impressed enough to hire Cardiff as cinematographer on their post-war Technicolor A Matter of Life and Death (1946). Their collaboration continued with Black Narcissus (1947), which won Cardiff an Oscar and a Golden Globe, and The Red Shoes (1948). These films put Cardiff's talents in high demand, and a string of big-budget films followed.
In 1995, the British Society of Cinematographers conferred a lifetime achievement award on Cardiff.
In the late 1950s Cardiff began to direct, with two modest successes in Intent to Kill (1958) and Web of Evidence (1959). However, his 1960 adaptation of D. H. Lawrence's novel Sons and Lovers, starring Trevor Howard, Wendy Hiller and Dean Stockwell, was a hit, critically and financially. It earned seven Oscar nominations (including a Best Director nomination for Cardiff) and Freddie Francis won for Best Black-and-White Cinematography. Cardiff received a Golden Globe Award for Best Director.
After concentrating on direction in the 1960s, he returned to cinematography in the 1970s and 1980s, working on mainstream commercial films in the United States. One of the last films Jack photographed was at Pinewood Studios in 2004 when he lit veteran actor Sir John Mills in a short entitled Lights 2 (dir. Marcus Dillistone). The combined age of leading actor and cinematographer was a record 186 years. A feature-length documentary was made about Cardiff's life and career, Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010) by Craig McCall. It took 17 years to make but wasn't completed or released until after his death. As well as many interviews with Cardiff, it included tributes from Martin Scorsese, Thelma Schoonmaker, Kathleen Byron, Kim Hunter, Moira Shearer, John Mills, Lauren Bacall, Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas. It was chosen for the official selection of Cannes Classics at the Festival de Cannes in 2010, as well as four other important film festivals that year.
Cardiff died of old age at 94 on 22 April 2009, the same day as Ken Annakin, with whom he had worked on The Fifth Musketeer (1979). He was survived by his wife and his four sons. Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff has recently been shown as part of the Great Yarmouth Arts Festival 2014 along with some of his photographs, often taken as preliminaries to lighting the films. Further celebrations to mark his birth date took place in September – particularly at the Time and Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth.
Jack Cardiff was the camera operator and then cinematographer for 73 films, documentaries and TV series between 1935 and 2007. These are some of the main films:
- Magic Hour (1996). Faber and Faber limited. ISBN 0-571-19274-2. Foreword by Martin Scorsese.
- Conversations with Jack Cardiff: Art, Light and Direction in Cinema by Justin Bowyer (ISBN 0-7134-8855-7)
- Jack Cardiff at the Internet Movie Database
- BFI: Jack Cardiff
- at the British Film Institute's Screenonline
- Jack Cardiff at the Powell & Pressburger pages
- BBC Forum Interview (2001)
- BBC Radio 4's The Film Programme
- Jack Cardiff Prints