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Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010) Review

17 08 2011

Copyright 2010 Modus Operandi Films

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Ever since hearing about this film several years ago, I have been extremely anxious to see it.  Upon noticing it’s appearance on Netflix’s Instant Queue, I immediately added it.  Maddie has been gone this week for orientation for a new job, and I knew that this film would not appeal to her at all.  In fact, she made it pretty clear she had no interest in seeing this one.  So, since I had the house to myself this week (along with a couple of cats and a dog), I was able to sit back, relax and enjoy this wonderful ode to one of cinema’s finest technical artists.

For those of you who don’t know, Jack Cardiff was a leading British cameraman who began as a child actor in the industry in the late 1910s.  In his teens, he began moving up the ladder in the camera department from camera assistant to camera operator and, ultimately, to a full fledged cinematographer.  His work with the Archers, Pressburger and Powell, is renowned and his contributions to the field of cinematography, specifically color cinematography, are legendary.  My first personal encounter with Cardiff’s work was in my early teens.  One of the VHS movies I had recently purchased contained a preview for a re-release of the 1948 film Black Narcissus.  I was shocked at the imagery I saw during the preview!  The colors were so real, so palpable and brilliant that it made any of the current films that were in theaters at the time look dull in comparison.   I knew I had to see this film, but it would be many years later before I got my Blu-ray copy of Black Narcissus in hand.  Needless to say, the HD presentation of that film is amazing.

Cardiff would win an Oscar for Black Narcissus and go on to receive two more nominations for King Vidor’s War and Peace and Joshua Logan’s Fanny.  A further nomination would be for directing the film Sons and Lovers, making Cardiff one of the few cinematographers to achieve great success in directing.  In 2001, Cardiff was the first and, to my knowledge, only cinematographer to date to receive an Honorary Oscar for his contribution to motion pictures.

This film is an ode to his life and to his work.  It celebrates and recounts his vast history in the film industry, and includes many candid interviews with Cardiff that were filmed before he passed in 2009 at the age of 94.  I thought this was a wonderful documentary and a great tip-of-the-hat to a brilliant cinematographer.  I could understand how some people might not find this film appealing or entertaining, just out of lack of interest in the subject matter.  However, if you are a lover of motion pictures or a working filmmaker, I feel this is a must see.  Cardiff’s ability to manipulate light still brings wonder and delight to any viewer of his work.  If I can be half the artist and cameraman this gentleman was, I will feel like I achieved my goals in the field of cinematography.

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R.I.P. Gunnar Fischer (1910 – 2011)

12 06 2011

Gunnar Fischer (1910 - 2011)

Legendary Swedish cinematographer Gunnar Fischer passed away yesterday at the age of 100.  Fischer’s lighting and camera techniques brought to life some of Ingmar Bergman’s most iconic films from the director’s early period.  Though not as well known as future collaborator Sven Nykvist, Fischer’s style and visual eye has dazzled cinema-goers for nearly 60 years, though his general recognition remains mostly silent.

Born in Ljungby Vasternorrlands Lan, Sweden, on November 18, 1910, Fischer originally studied painting at Otte Sköld.  Following his education, he enlisted as a chef with the Swedish Navy, before turning to a career in cinema at Svensk Filmindustri. His first film credit was as assistant camera on Smålänningar in 1935, and his first feature as a director of photography came in 1942.  He worked with several international directors including Danish master Carl Theodor Dreyer and British director Anthony Asquith.  However, his most endearing and remembered artistic partnership was with Bergman from 1948 to 1960.

The fruits of Bergman and Fischer’s collaborations include such films as Harbor City, Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, The Magician and their final collaboration, The Devil’s Eye.  Like many fellow Swedish cinematographers of the era, Fischer was a master of practical lighting and operated his own camera on all his films.  Such classic images as Max von Sydow playing chess with Death or the wide dancing chain on the hill side from The Seventh Seal still move and touch viewers of all generations.

Bergman and Fischer went their separate ways after The Devil’s Eye in 1960.  Bergman went on to form another strong artistic partnership with cinematographer Sven Nykvist which lasted through almost the rest of the director’s professional career.  Fischer continued shooting feature films until 1979 when he retired.  In retirement, he continued to be close to his craft by serving as an instructor of cinematography at several prestigious Scandinavian universities.

An interesting article and interview regarding Fisher’s time working with Bergman from the Washington Post in 2008 can be found here:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/01/AR2008020100903.html








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