Page last updated at 15:35 GMT, Wednesday, 22 April 2009 16:35 UK

Obituary: Jack Cardiff

Close-up of Jack Cardiff
Jack Cardiff was the doyen of cinematographers

Kirk Douglas said Jack Cardiff, who has died at the age of 94, possessed "the eyes of Chagall". Lauren Bacall claimed he was the only cameraman who could meet the impossible demands of director John Huston.

Cardiff was the cinematographer par excellence. In 2001, at the age of 86, he received a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars, the first technician to be honoured so.

It wasn't his first Oscar. It was Cardiff who had shot the Powell and Pressburger classic, Black Narcissus, set in the Himalayas, though actually faked by the cinematographer in a studio at Pinewood.

He also received two further nominations for cinematography on Fanny, and War and Peace, and for directing Sons and Lovers.

Alfred Hitchcock was impressed by this first stab at directing, and took Cardiff on for Under Capricorn. But Cardiff's other directing efforts were less well received and he returned to cinematography.

Jack Cardiff was born in Great Yarmouth in 1914, and became a camera operator in the 1930s after stints as a child actor, runner and clapper boy.

The movie business was in the family - his cousin was the actress, Kay Kendall. Cardiff was one of an exclusive band who had been invited to learn the Technicolor process.

Jack Cardiff in front of a Rembrandt canvas
Cardiff cited Rembrandt as an influence

Cardiff re-wrote the rules of cinematography, bringing a painter's eye to the craft. Indeed, he cited Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh and Caravaggio as inspirations for the light and colour of Black Narcissus.

He was a painter himself, and portraits of some of the actors with whom he worked have been exhibited.

In Michael Powell's The Red Shoes, the 18-minute dance sequence by Moira Shearer, filmed by Cardiff, was described by Martin Scorsese as "a moving painting".

"Michael was a great man to work with," Powell once said. "I was the sort of person to suggest a lot of crazy ideas, and he took them seriously."

He worked on another Powell classic, A Matter of Life and Death.

Marilyn Monroe confidant

Cardiff's great sense of colour was also evident in John Huston's The African Queen.

Before shooting, Humphrey Bogart told him: "Listen, kid, you see this face? It's taken me a good few years to get these lines, I don't want you to wash them out with lights."

He got on well with Bogart and many other stars. He became something of a confidant of Marilyn Monroe. He was drawn both to her beauty and her vulnerability.

Cardiff on set
Cardiff was the first technician to receive a lifetime Oscar

"Marilyn never said a nasty word about anyone - she was like a child," he wrote.

Sophia Loren was a friend. "I can honestly say I discovered her, and made a screen test of her.

"She was very popular. Everyone fell in love with her including me."

He also befriended Marlene Dietrich, Errol Flynn, William Holden and Kirk Douglas.

During lunch breaks on the set, he would often ask the leading actress to sit for still photographic portraits.

One included a soft focus informal shot of Monroe that became husband Arthur Miller's favourite.

Jack Cardiff went on to work on action location films in the 1970s and 80s which earned popular, rather than critical, acclaim. They included Rambo: First Blood Part II.

He came out of retirement in his late 80s to work on a small budget movie entitled Sabina Anima, such was his reputation.

Marilyn Monroe once handed him a signed photograph of herself and said: "Dear Jack, if only I could be the way you have created me."

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Filmmaker Cardiff dies aged 94
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