Spotlight on: Jack Cardiff - The Red Shoes Film Cinematographer

18 November 2016

Our Audience Engagement Coordinator, Nick Kyprianou, spoke to Mason Cardiff this week about his father Jack Cardiff, cinematographer of The Red Shoes film (1948).

Pictured: Mason Cardiff

Jack Cardiff, OBE, BSC was born on 18 September 1914 and passed away on 22 April 2009. A British cinematographer, director and photographer his career spanned the development of cinema from silent film through early experiments in Technicolor to filmmaking in the 21st century. He was best known for his influential colour cinematography for directors such as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (of The Red Shoes), John Huston and Alfred Hitchcock. In 2000 Jack was awarded an OBE and in 2001 received an Honorary Oscar for his contribution to cinema.

The Red Shoes film used Technicolour, the second major colour process after Britain's Kinemacolor, and the most widely used colour process in Hollywood from 1922 to 1952. Technicolor became known and celebrated for its highly saturated colour as seen in the film. Mason told Nick that he’s a huge fan of The Red Shoes and is looking forward to watching Matthew Bourne’s production. He is particularly interested in seeing how Matthew will translate the use of vivid and almost palpable colours in the film to the set and costume on stage, which Lez Brotherston (Associate Artist, New Adventures) has designed.

Mason said, “J. Arthur Rank thought the film was a disaster and refused to give it a premiere, saying that it had no hope of commercial success. It’s amazing that after well over half a century, it is now championed by the likes of iconic American Director Martin Scorsese and many other figures in the film industry as a pioneering piece of film.”

Following its release the film received positive reviews but didn’t take much money in the UK because its promotion was not financially supported. But after a limited release in a single theatre in the USA that took $2.2million in US rentals, Universal Studios were convinced to take over the US distribution in 1951. The Red Shoes then became one of the highest earning British films of all time.

A still from The Red Shoes film (Vicky Page and Grischa Ljubov in the ballet sequence)

Mason said, “Before he worked on the film Dad [Jack] wasn’t a fan of ballet, but Director Michael Powell told him that had to quickly change because their next project was The Red Shoes! So he went to see the Bolshoi Ballet which sparked his interest and then after working on the film became a fully-fledged ballet fan.” Jack even developed a friendship with Rudolf Nureyev, one of the most celebrated dancers of the 20th century, often visiting Jack’s home to dance for him.

To find out more about Jack’s career and legacy, his work is reviewed in detail in the documentary film Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010).

All Images: Jack Cardiff Estate

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