Above-the-line stars get most of the credit and glory for Hollywood successes, but dozens if not hundreds of other specially gifted artisans labor on most big-budget productions, often going their entire careers without so much as an acknowledged tip of the proverbial cap from the moviegoing public at large. Director Craig McCall’s fascinating documentary Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff, then, attempts to right this wrong, shining a light on Cardiff, who on March 25, 2001 — more than five decades after winning his first Academy Award, for his stunning work on Black Narcissus — became the first cinematographer ever presented with an honorary Oscar, for his exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences.
If there’s a strike against this picture, it’s that it unfolds in a very linear and somewhat unimaginative fashion. Cameraman lacks a real spine, and doesn’t delve at all into Cardiff’s (doubtlessly fascinating) personal life. More about what shaped him in his young, formative years (there’s one scene that touches on this, but it seems the tip of an iceberg), as well as how Cardiff coped for so long with the itinerant lifestyle of a cinematographer and director, would have given McCall’s movie a much-needed extra dimensionality. Regardless, as is, Cameraman is a captivating look back at a transitory time — before basically all movies were made in color — when cinematography was slightly more welded to the emotion of the material, and used unabashedly to heighten the effect of genre elements. That Cardiff’s unique role in this era, and spanning the periods that both preceded and followed it, finally receives its own recognition is indeed a special thing. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here. (Strand, unrated, 94 minutes)