No one Photographed Red Like Jack Cardiff

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Jack Cardiff has died, at the magnificent age of 94. He shot his last motion picture work only two years ago; and not only was he working til very late on in life, according to people who knew him, was one of the film world’s true gentlemen.

It’s hard to think of anyone else who worked with Marilyn Monroe, Sylvester Stallone, Frank Langella, David Niven, Deborah Kerr, Stephen King, Arnold Scwarzennegger, Laurence Olivier, Ned Beatty and Ernest Borgnine; not to mention the fact that he participated in both the 1935 and 1984 versions of ‘The Last Days of Pompeii’. Must have had a thing for volcanoes – and I’m not kidding, for Vesuvian reds were a specialty. Of course, the work that Cardiff is best known for is that done with Powell and Pressburger – ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, in which heaven’s black and white stasis mingles with life in earth in glorious hues; ‘Black Narcissus’, whose visual garishness apes its vision of religious sexual repression; and, most of all, ‘The Red Shoes’, which manages to feel both emotionally real, despite its melodrama, and appear to take place in a Disney cartoon villain’s psyche (and I mean that as a compliment).

Looking at his later credits, it’s easy to imagine he loved working so much that he would take whatever job was going (I’m not sure he did ‘Rambo II’ because of the aesthetic qualities of the script), and he was known for going beyond the call of duty to support younger film-makers, not long ago agreeing to shoot, and encouraging Martin Scorsese and Michael Nyman to attach their names to, a Scottish director’s vision of a film about Freud and Jung. Alas the funding fell through, but what a film it would have been. It’s a measure of the beauty of Cardiff’s images that I fully intend to watch ‘Rambo II’ for the first time as soon as I can.  Though I might give The Red Shoes’ another dip first.

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