A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, Scott of the Antarctic, Under Capricorn, The Magic Box, The Barefoot Contessa, War and Peace, The Prince and the Showgirl, The Vikings, The Girl on a Motorcycle, Ghost Story, Conan the Destroyer…
The cinematographer has to put on film what the story and the director wants to put on film in a sense. It is no good the cameraman doing a wonderful job of photography that doesn’t fit the mood of what the film and the director requires. He is virtually a kind of servant of the story and the director. Recently there has been much more empathy between the director and the cameraman. In the old days the cameraman used to light things without quite realising that however pretty it was it was against the form of the story.
I have had directors say to me “Jack, I would like you to try and get an atmosphere of pathos or poverty or happiness or something” and they would say to me “I don’t know how you do it” but that is what they would say to me and I would do my best.
Today it has all changed because most of the young directors have been to film schools and they have studied lighting and they have studied film stock – they know which film stock has certain advantages over the others and they have studied all kinds of things to do with the camera. So they can say to a cameraman I would like you to use this film stock on this sequence. They can sometimes tell the cameraman what they want. It hasn’t happened to me thank God but it can happen.
I think we are the beginning of this vast change – it is frightening so far as I am concerned. I have got to learn new words like megabytes and pixels and it is like learning Russian backwards! What they can do now with special effects is unbelievable.
I suppose [the cinematographer in the digital age] has got to be more of an expert in that field than I was in my field. He has got to know about pixels and megabytes. He has got to be something of a general technician in that sense too. Basically, the form of light on the persons and light on the scene can never change because that is part of life. So I think he would have to have a good knowledge of this. When I have done lectures in England and abroad, I have always told the young people training to be cameramen that they must study painting and technique. Because the painters used light, whether they were painting a landscape or a bowl of fruit, they used light and light is the all important thing. My favourite painter is Turner because he used to use light. This is a great thing for cameramen – they can use light and they can manipulate it – especially lighting with lamps. There is a great similarity with the knowledge of lighting and painting.
Just because technology changes, it doesn’t mean it always gets better. The inside of my mind is lined with pictures shot by Jack Cardiff, and it always will be.