Jack Cardiff – A Tribute

Last night I watched ‘A Matter of Life and Death’. There is nothing unique about this, it being one of my favourite films I must have viewed it over 20 times, but last night it had a special poignancy as I’d just learnt that the man who shot it, Jack Cardiff, had passed away.


Born in my hometown of Great Yarmouth, Jack Cardiff was a cinematographer of the highest possible regard. ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ was his first major piece after he impressed director Michael Powell so much on the duo known as ‘The Archers” previous film ‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp’. It was to be the beginning of a wonderful partnership.

Cardiff went on to photograph more Powell and Pressburger films, in particular ‘Black Narcissus’ and ‘The Red Shoes’, the latter of which I would implore any aspiring film-maker to seek out as a masterclass in how to make a film look, quite simply, breathtaking. He completed other notable works as cinematographer which include ‘The African Queen’ and ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’, whose star Marilyn Monroe labelled Cardiff “her favourite filmmaker”.

I’m reticent to admit that I haven’t seen even half of his work (including his directorial efforts ‘The Girl On A Motorcycle’ and ‘Sons And Lovers’), but for his work with Powell and Pressburger alone he has garnered a level of respect fom me that I bestow to very few. As well as winning an Oscar for ‘Black Narcissus’ and countless other nominations, he was given an honorary Academy Award in 2001.

Re-watching ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ it was so abundantly clear that this man had a gift few other movie makers have. From the wide-angled shots of the solitary Peter Carter (David Niven) strolling up the beaches of Saunton Sands through to Dr Reeves (Roger Livesey)’s Camera Obscura images of the sleepy village, each frame is a work of art. And heaven, well heaven never looked as real as when filmed by Jack Cardiff.

Niven’s character Peter Carter provides one of my favourite quotes of all time and quite a timely one. When contemplating what the next world was like he said, “I think it starts where this one leaves off or where this one could leave off if we’d listened to Plato and Aristotle and Jesus. With all our little earthly problems solved but with greater ones worth the solving.”

I hope the next world is filled with 35mm film for Jack to play with. And that if I make it to the great beyond there will be more films that look like film should look. Glorious, Colourful, Vibrant and Beautiful.