Caught by the River

Cameraman – The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff

9th May 2010

by Ceri Levy.

Standing in at 13 years in the making, Craig McCall’s film about Jack Cardiff, probably England’s finest cinematographer and Oscar winner (Black Narcissus), is finally available for public consumption and about time too. This has been a labour of love but we are rewarded with a fitting and engaging tribute to Jack. The sad point is that Jack never lived to see this well crafted documentary. And unfortunately death is probably the reason why the funding fell into place to get the film finished and why the BFI is now running a season of his films in May. Death has always been the greatest career invigorator.

Cameraman is a mix of classic film clips, Jack’s home movies, both on and off set, documentary footage and interviews with his associates, ranging from Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall and Charlton Heston through to Martin Scorsese, who proves to be deeply knowledgeable about Jack’s work but first and foremost a fan. Jack himself, is hugely engaging and relates anecdotes as if they were being told for the very first time. Relaxed and erudite, it is easy to feel warmed by his presence on screen. I am saddened to say that I don’t think they make them like him anymore.

His visual influences included great painters, from Vermeer to the Impressionists, and his ability to paint with light and create sumptuous looks with techniques such as his use of chiaroscuro, was extraordinary. Cameraman enables us to look back in time, view his art and see that without pioneers of visual beauty and cinematic artistry such as Jack, we may not have the modern cinematic world as we now have it.

There is a scene where Jack is at home pointing at portraits on the wall of some of his co-workers, including Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, and Humphrey Bogart, ”She’s dead, she’s dead, he’s dead… and I’m just alive.” And in that moment you realise that you are in the presence of the last vestiges of a disappearing age. Many people never realise the importance of a cameraman, for often it is the director that gets all the plaudits but behind every great director there is often an equally great cameraman. His roll call of who he has worked with is extraordinary, Hitchcock, Powell and Pressburger, Dietrich, Ava Gardner. The list is an endless catalogue of the greats and his films include, A Matter of Life and Death, The Red Shoes, The African Queen and he even shot Rambo. He has straddled film time like no other.

Martin Scorsese says, “ We have to keep making films like this,” and he’s right, and you can help by seeing the movie at the BFI over the next three weeks. The more people that see it there then the more chance it will get to play in cinemas across the country. That’s how distribution works these days. No gambles, no risks, no emotion, just bums on seats. So do your bit and go and see it and let your presence help form a future for this tribute to one of England’s finest.

Cameraman – The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff. Directed by Craig McCall and produced by Craig McCall and Richard McGill.
Runs at the BFI Cinema until 27 May


We have a pair of tickets to give away. All you have to do to win them is answer the following question correctly;

Question: What film did Jack direct in the 60’s, which starred Alain Delon and Marianne Faithfull?

Send your answer to and please add the time and date of the performance you would like to attend. Screen times can be found HERE.
Answers must be in by Midday Tuesday 11th May. First one out of the hat gets the tickets. Note: you must be a Caught by the River member to be eligible. Just put your e mail address in the box at the top of the page.