Some Thoughts on Jack Cardiff 1914-2009

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Jack Cardiff with Marianne Faithfull on the set of The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968)

The talented director and cinematographer Jack Cardiff has passed away at the age of 94. As the tributes start to roll out from various news sites and film blogs its become clear to me that most people regard Jack Cardiff as a great cinematographer and have little regard or knowledge of his directing contributions, which is a shame. Cardiff was a brilliant photographer and his groundbreaking contributions to cinematography are well worth celebrating. But his impressive work as a director on films like the wonderful D.H. Lawrence adaptation Sons and Lovers (1960), the entertaining spy thriller The Liquidator (1965), the excellent erotic drama The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968) and the effective horror film The Mutations (1974) is also worthy of applause.

My favorite Cardiff film is The Girl on a Motorcycle (on my list of Favorite Films from 1968), which starred Marianne Faithfull and Alain Delon as two motorcycle obsessed lovers named Rebecca and Daniel. Jack Cardiff directed, photographed and edited the film, and it holds a special place in my heart for numerous reasons. First and foremost is the ingenious casting. Marianne Faithfull and Alain Delon were two of the most beautiful, transgressive and fascinating pop culture icons of the ’60s and teaming them up in The Girl on a Motorcycle was a brilliant idea. They’re incredibly sexy together in the film and Cardiff did a remarkable job of capturing their youthful beauty as well as the erotic heat generated by his two stars.

Jack Cardiff said of filming Marianne Faithfull, “Never since I first saw Marilyn Monroe through the camera lens have I seen such irresistible beauty. To focus on her is to focus the camera on your innermost heart.”

This touching observation is made crystal clear when you watch the film. Cardiff’s camera was clearly infatuated with Marianne Faithfull and there’s an intimacy between the director and the actress on display in The Girl on a Motorcycle that is impossible to overlook.

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Cardiff’s penetrating exploration into the mind, heart and body of Marianne Faithfull’s Rebecca is loaded with impressive visual cues and mesmerizing camera effects. The psychedelic edginess of Girl on a Motorcycle may seem somewhat dated now and many people will probably find the movie unworthy of all my praise, but Cardiff’s film is still effective if you’re willing and able to give in to its many pleasures. The sensual nature of the film’s plot combined with Cardiff’s mesmerizing photography and experimental editing make The Girl on a Motorcycle a truly unforgettable film and one of the most fascinating and genuinely sexy movies to come out of Britain in the late ’60s.

In a 1968 interview with Philip Bradford, Jack Cardiff called The Girl on a Motorcycle the only film that was, “truly, entirely my own.” He added that, “On other films in the past I have often been prevented from shooting a picture entirely as I may have wished. But this time I worked on the script, have directed and edited, and have been responsible for the choice of music. I am delighted to have had this total freedom.”

It’s a shame that Jack Cardiff didn’t get that kind of opportunity more often because his directorial efforts showcase the work of an extremely talented man with a painter’s eye and literary ambitions who was willing to take risks and buck convention. We need more film makers like Jack Cardiff.

In a strange coincidence I was planning to devote an entire week to The Girl on a Motorcycle next month because the film is being re-released on DVD by Redemption Films. Instead of waiting until May, I’ve decided to go ahead and start posting some of The Girl on a Motorcycle material I was planning on sharing. Keep your eye on Cinebeats in the coming days for more posts about Jack Cardiff’s film.


The trailer for Girl on a Motorcycle (1968)

Recommended Links:
BFI: A Tribute to Jack Cardiff OBE
Gallery Chiaroscuro, the official website for the Jack Cardiff Collection
Internet Encyclopedia of Cinematographers: Jack Cardiff
Jack Cardiff at IMDB.com
David Hudson’s collection of Jack Cardiff Obits at IFC.com

My tribute to the film continues here.

9 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Jack Cardiff 1914-2009

  1. Greg says:

    What a great cinematographer he was! And a fine director too. This was a great appreciation and I look forward to seeing your write-up(s) of The Girl on a Motorcycle.

  2. cinebeats says:

    Glad you enjoyed it, Greg! I noticed that Cardiff’s directing efforts were getting pushed aside in the various obits I was reading and I always wished he had made more films. Hope to share more Girl on a Motorcycle material soon.

  3. Bob says:

    Okay, you’ve done it, young lady…another damn movie I have to see. Even if it doesn’t me as hard as it did you, I can’t see how I won’t be a better film geek for having seen it. Looks way cool.

    BTW — Someone one linked to another one of Cardiff’s really obscure horror films, “The Freakmaker,” I think it was called. Something tells me that it must be the obscure missing link between Todd Browning’s “Freaks” and Alex Winter’s “Freaked,” which makes, you know, very important.

    I really enjoyed reading this, btw.

  4. cinebeats says:

    There’s a high probability that you probably won’t enjoy the film as much as I do because it’s really an aesthetic pleasure for me. But I hope you give it look, Bob!

    The Freakmaker is just another name for his horror film The Mutations, which I mentioned above. For one reason or another Cardif’s films were often “renamed” (Girl on a Motorcycle became Naked Under Leather) in an effort to sell tickets. I think The Mutations is a really entertaining film and Cardiff did pay tribute to Browning’s Freaks with it. The opening minutes feature some really stunning nature photography by Cardiff too! Unfortunately the American DVD that’s currently available for The Mutations (aka The Freakmaker) features a rather crappy print of the film, but it also contains a really great interview with Cardiff that I highly recommend.

  5. BMovieBrainiac says:

    Cardiff’s work on Michael Powell films like, BLACK NARCISSUS,GONE TO EARTH,THE RED SHOES,etc. is the stuff I will remember him for.

  6. Steve Langton says:

    Oh, Motorcycle is wonderful and deserves every ounce of praise. I was lucky enough to see Marianne just over a decade ago, reading passages from her book on The Stones at a London record store. One of those events that stays with you.

  7. sexykino says:

    Thanks for shedding some light on Jack Cardiff’s lesser-known career as a director – and this much-maligned little film, in particular. If you can see past the obvious flaws, it’s quite a groovy trip! I also love MUTATIONS and Jack’s contributions to the Powell/Pressburger films.

    Speaking of groovy, this blog is the Cat’s Meow!

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