Rest in Peace, Jack Cardiff

I hate to be a Debbie Downer at this late hour in the day, but the BBC is reporting that filmmaker Jack Cardiff has passed away at 94.  He had a wonderfully long and varied career as both and a director and a cinematographer.  I think he’s a Technicolor genius, and his cinematography work with Michael Powell and Emerich Pressburger on the exceptional melodramas Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes may be some of the greatest ever.  I cannot recommend these films enough; his work in these movies is one of the great cases for film as a true art.  It’s a testament to his talent that, even on YouTube, his ability to capture color is simply stunning.  Let’s celebrate the life of a true artist with (what I believe to be) the crowning achievement of his work:

I recall sitting in a film class and encountering this scene for the first time.  I see plenty of movies, and many of them excite me in some way or another, but this scene was something special.  I crackled with an electric shock, like I was a human battery, as I sat through these moments, and the sensation never leaves me.

If it were not for the way that Mr. Cardiff captured the redness of Sister Rose’s lipstick of eerily calm pinks of the Himalayan sunrise in the sublime manner that he did, I wonder if this scene would have the same hypnotic control over me.  Powell and Pressburger indubitably played a large and important part in crafting the perfect finale of Black Narcissus (they’re the directors, and geniuses in their own right, after all), but the colors–so necessary to the feel and mood and affect of the film–are Cardiff’s doing.  He’s a man of supreme talent, and he shall be missed.

2 Responses

  1. Now i must see this gem!


  2. Such sad news. I couldn’t agree with you more, Ben. As you know, I share your love for P and P (A Matter of Life and Death is one of the most moving and beautiful films I’ve ever seen). I think their film’s capture the essence of what is noble and wonderful about British/English national identity, most of it sadly lost. I remember meeting Michael Powell when I was an undergrad–he came to my University to speak to us film students shortly before he died–and I asked him about the color in the films. It’s always struck me as special, other-worldly and unlike anything else. He was (I think) losing his mind and memory and couldn’t really say anything. I don’t even know if he realized how special his films were–and how great Jack Cardiff’s cinematography was–at that point in his life.

    You should also mention Girl on a Motorcycle–the film that showed Jack Cardiff to be a great bad filmmaker. Marianne Faithful takes on Europe on a motorcycle on a mission to see her lover. One of the great bad performances of European would be art/soft-soft core cinema.


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