BSC Members Roster – Past Full Accredited

Jack Cardiff OBE BSC

Category: Past Full Accredited

Role: Cinematographer

Website: IMDb

18.9.1914 - 22.4.2009


At the grand age of 95 years, Jack passed away very peacefully at his home surrounded by his family on April 22nd, 2010. Jack was a founder member of the Society and a master of the Technicolor 3 strip process, producing highly acclaimed work and receiving 17 awards and nominations.

The son of music hall performers, Jack Cardiff was born at Great Yarmouth on September 18, 1914. His parents toured extensively, and Jack later claimed to have attended over 300 schools “and learned virtually nothing!” He made his film debut at the age of four, and in a subsequent role he played a boy who dies after being run over – his demise took three days to film, a harrowing experience for his parents who were watching behind the camera, since his elder brother had died of pneumonia not long before, at age seven. 

After appearing in a dozen films, Jack's acting career stalled, but just before his 14th birthday, he found work as a runner at Elstree Studios on the 1928 silent film, THE INFORMER photographed by Werner Brandes and Theodor Sparkuhl. His principal job was to supply the German director, Dr. Arthur Robison, with Vichy water on account of a flatulence problem. He knew nothing about photography, cameras or lenses at that time but decided he wanted to be in the camera department “because camera people went on location abroad.” Shortly after that Jack started on the lowest rung of the camera department ladder as a number boy. But it wasn’t long, in those heady days, for him to climb up the ladder by a series of fortunate events, to operate for René Clair on THE GHOST GOES WEST (1935 photographed by Harold Rosson).  

Following on from their huge success in Hollywood, Technicolor decided to open a laboratory in England in 1936 and interviewed prospective camera crew to work as Technicolor technicians. In those days, due to the complexity of the process, the 3-strip cameras were only rented out with crew trained by Technicolor. Jack was convinced he had bungled his interview as he had to admit that he knew nothing about the mathematics of light but when asked what did he think made him a good cameraman he replied: his love of painting and the old masters. Inevitably he got the job, probably helped by the fact that Technicolor’s chief colour consultant at the time was Natalie Kalmus, divorced wife of Technicolor’s CEO, who had studied fine art.

His first assignment as operator was the coronation of George VI in 1937, followed closely by the first 3-strip Technicolor feature to be shot in England, WINGS OF THE MORNING (1937), starring a young Henry Fonda, directed by Harold Schuster and photographed by Technicolor’s ace cinematographer, Ray Rennahan, ASC. It was on this film that Jack paired up with Chris Challis, BSC, as his focus puller. Chris stayed with him for several years, graduating to operator for Jack on THE RED SHOES (1948) directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and photographing one of Jack’s directorial credits THE LONG SHIPS (1964).

In the next years Jack worked on many short films for Technicolor designed to show it’s abilities mostly as the DP and got his wish to travel the world with Chris Challis in tow with a company called WORLD WINDOWS who had a financing deal with Technicolor. When war broke out in 1939, Cardiff had to return to England and continued shooting these shorts in the UK.

Because of his knowledge and experience shooting exteriors with Technicolor, he got his first assignment as cinematographer on a feature length film with the wartime documentary, WESTERN APPROACHES (1944) directed by Pat Jackson, made under the auspices of the Crown Film Unit as a tribute to the Merchant Navy.

As employees of Technicolor, trained crews were often asked to shoot inserts or additional photography on features in production and one day Jack found himself lighting a wall of stuffed animal heads with horns for Michael Powell’s THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (1943). Jack said, “I spent more time than usual setting the lights without casting multiple shadows, then while looking through the camera I heard a voice say, ‘Interesting,’ and there was Michael Powell. He turned slowly toward me and said, ‘Would you like to photograph my next picture?’

However, it wasn’t that straightforward, as Powell had already asked his previous cinematographer, Erwin Hillier, BSC and suggested that, if they were in agreement, the two DPs share credit on A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946 US: STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN). Fortunately for Jack, Hillier declined and Jack began a three picture run with Powell and Pressburger as sole director of photography, winning his first Oscar for BLACK NARCISSUS (1947). For this film, “Cardiff conjured from studio sets a Himalayan fantasy: a rhapsody of lush jungle, rivers, precipitous snow-­capped mountains and blood-­orange sunsets that Rumer Godden – author of the original novel – called "magical" and the saving grace of the film, which was "otherwise without an atom of truth". In his autobiography on the other hand, Jack credited a lot of the effects to matte painter, “Poppa” Day, “he was truly a wizard with painted glass mattes … his work on this film was so realistic, I am sure many people thought it was my photography and perhaps I wouldn’t have got an Oscar if they knew Poppa Day had painted those beautiful matte shots.”

Jack followed that with THE RED SHOES (1948). “Cardiff's fluid camera and bold use of colour created a unity from naturalistic staged and dream sequences. He had a remarkable gift for telling a story with colours, and used red to striking effect: there is the red dress and lipstick of Kathleen Byron's lovesick nun in BLACK NARCISSUS, and the red ballet shoes that torment Moira Shearer's ballerina. Cardiff could find eroticism latent in the most unpromising circumstances, and few were able to light women as he could: his close-ups of burning eyes and moist lips revealed passionate depths in such demure actresses as Deborah Kerr and Kim Hunter. “

Martin Scorsese once described the 18-minute dance sequence in THE RED SHOES as "a moving painting". It is true to say that Jack brought a painterly eye to his photography – often saying that if he hadn’t been a DP he would have been a painter. He pushed the envelope of the Technicolor process, often against the wishes of Ms. Kalmus, but to his credit, his ground-breaking efforts were respected and acknowledged in the feature world.

His work for Powell and Pressburger made him one of the most celebrated of international cinematographers. Among his other work following that period was the quintessential British film, SCOTT OF THE ANTARCTIC (1948) directed by Charles Frend, shooting Antarctica mostly on interior sets at Ealing Film Studios. Then he worked with Alfred Hitchcock, on UNDER CAPRICORN (1949). At this Time Hitchcock had some success with ROPE (1948) where he experimented by filming long takes with one complete magazine without cuts and joining them together. Jack explained in his autobiography how difficult it was to follow this technique with a film that was not based on a stage play that happened in one room as ROPE had been. “I had to light many sets in one go. The sets were mostly in sections that slid open electronically so that the giant electric crane could enter and exit.

Sometimes, I had lamps on separate dollies and electricians carrying lamps into positions and hurriedly scrambling out of shot or under a table as the crane passed by. We would rehearse one whole day and shoot the next.”

Some semblance of normality returned with PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN (1951) starring Ava Gardner and James Mason, directed by Albert Lewin but Jack soon faced another challenge shooting THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951) for John Huston with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in full 3-strip Technicolor in the jungles of East Africa, suffering disease and dysentery with Huston at his most perverse, more interested in hunting than in filming. Among his other DP credits around this time were THE MAGIC BOX (1951), the story of William Friese-Green, one of the inventors of motion picture photography and made for the FESTIVAL OF BRITAIN, directed by John Boulting, it had an all- star cast of British actors.

It was during the shooting of THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE (1953) that Jack met and made friends with Errol Flynn who later offered him to direct THE STORY OF WILLIAM TELL a pet project of Flynn’s with him as star and producer, a chance that Jack had been longing for. However, after several weeks of shooting, the production ran aground due to lack of funds and Jack found himself broke and in Rome. “I sold my Encyclopaedia Britannica for peanuts!” But help was at hand when Joe Mankiewicz, who had graduated from scriptwriter to director, arrived at his restaurant one night and offered Jack to shoot THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954) re-uniting him with Ava Gardner and Humphrey Bogart.

Jack went on to shoot the gargantuan battle scenes in the American/Italian production of WAR AND PEACE (1956) directed by King Vidor, for which he received an Oscar nomination; THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL (1957) starring Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe, of which Jack said: "[Marilyn] Monroe was a manic depressive. Olivier should have got an Oscar for his patience,” whereas Marilyn described Jack as "the best in the world". Then followed THE VIKINGS (1958), directed by Richard Fleischer, starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis and FANNY (1961) with Leslie Caron and Maurice

Chevalier, directed by Joshua Logan for which Jack received his third Oscar nomination.

In the 1960s Jack made a prolonged foray into directing. “He favoured fantastic or poetic subject matter, with mixed results.” For a long time he treasured hopes of filming James Joyce's ULYSSES, but they were never realised. One of his early films was THE SCENT OF MYSTERY (1960). Made for that quintessential showman Michael Todd, it was the first film to be presented in Odorama, or "Smell-O-Vision", a system that released odours in a cinema so that the audience could "smell" what was happening on the screen.

More successful was Jack’s version of SONS AND LOVERS (1960), with Dean Stockwell, Mary Ure and Wendy Hiller, which won a number of critics' awards and was nominated for seven Oscars, winning only one for director of photography, Freddie Francis, BSC, for his terrific black and white, CinemaScope photography.

He also directed THE LION, with William Holden (1962); THE LONG SHIPS (1963) with Richard Widmark and Sydney Poitier; and took over the direction of YOUNG CASSIDY (1964) when John Ford fell ill. One of his favourite projects was THE GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE (1968) with Marianne Faithful and Alain Delon, which he also photographed.

In the 1970s and 1980s Cardiff returned to work as a cinematographer of “romantic films set in exotic places.” One film critic said, “He had never taken to the naturalism of dirty fingernails and housing estates, and his rich style could look naive, or even stuffy, alongside the fast cutting and violent images of the video age, “ but was still very much in demand.

Among his later films as Director of Photography were RIDE A WILD PONY (1976), DEATH ON THE NILE (1978), TAI PAN (1986) and THE AWAKENING (1980), and THE DOGS OF WAR (1980).

He also photographed Sylvester Stallone's gleaming torso sweating its way through mud, blood and heavy undergrowth in RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD, PART II (1984).

In 1994 the American Society of Cinematographers presented Jack with its International Award for outstanding achievement; the next year he received a lifetime achievement award from the British Society of Cinematographers. In 2000 he was appointed OBE, and the following year he was awarded an honorary Oscar.

Jack Cardiff published an autobiography, Magic Hour (with a preface by Martin Scorsese), in 1996. He enjoyed painting, and said that the French Impressionists had been a major influence on his work with the camera.

Jack Cardiff awards as a DP:

BLACK NARCISSUS (1948) – Oscar and Golden Globe WAR AND PEACE (1956) – Oscar nomination, BSC Award; FANNY (1961) -­ Oscar nomination, 3rd Place Laurel Award;

And as director:

SONS AND LOVERS (1961) – Oscar nominated, nominated for the Golden Palm at the Cannes film festival, nominated for a DGA Award, Won a Golden Globe, The National Board of Review award and the New York Critics Award.


Society Of Cinematographers, and the International Award from American Society of Cinematographers.

He was also nominated for a BAFTA award for his photography of one episode of television series THE FAR PAVILIONS (1985)

SPECIAL HONORARY OSCAR – 2001 from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Phil Méheux BSC