Documentary Review: Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010)

Release Date: May 13th, 2011
Directed by: Craig McCall
Music by: Mark Sayer-Wade

Modus Operandi Films, UK Film Council, National Lottery, 86 Minutes

Review:

I was glad to find this documentary streaming on FilmStruck, a service which every film lover should already be subscribed to.

I have known of Jack Cardiff and his contributions to movies for years but never have I seen anything that talks about the man and really analyzes the great work he did behind the camera for decades.

He was a master of color, of style and became one of the most sought after cinematographers in motion picture history. He was an auteur in the same vein as the greatest directors who have their own distinct styles.

This documentary is done in a general biography style but it spends a lot of time focusing on all the important and trendsetting films that Cardiff was a part of. It also gave me some films that I had to add to my “must see” list.

The coolest thing about Cameraman is that it interviews Cardiff and lets him speak about his work and his experiences. It also showcases directors, actors and other artists who worked with or were influenced by Jack Cardiff.

For those truly interested in filmmaking, film history and film culture, this is a documentary that is definitely worth your time. It is well produced, finely presented and paints a glorious picture of the man’s contribution to the art that he loved.

Book Review: ‘Into the Dark: The Hidden World of Film Noir, 1941-1950’ by Mark A. Vieira

This was a book put out by Turner Classic Movies, which is pretty cool, as they are the one cable channel that really showcases classic film-noir on a regular basis.

I was surprised that the book wasn’t written by Eddie Muller, the Czar of Noir and TCM’s resident film-noir expert, but he did provide the forward for the book. Muller did already write his own book on the subject, however, 1998’s Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir. I’ll read and review that one in the near future.

This book is pretty large like a big coffee table book but it is also thick at 300-plus pages.

Initially, when I first opened it, I was stunned by the amazing photos but I was underwhelmed by the content.

The book doesn’t have write ups of the films and instead features excerpts from other people. Each film featured has credits, a few production notes, reviews, feedback from theater owners all over the world and quotes from the artists involved in the production. I guess I was expecting some good analysis by the author himself.

However, as I read further into the book, I realized how much ground it covered and the tidbits of info sprinkled onto the pages was very insightful and added a lot of context to the pictures this book features.

I also like how the book is organized, as the chapters represent years of release and everything within the chapters is in chronological order by the films’ release dates.

This book is of the highest quality and the photos are massive and pristine looking. The presentation alone is well worth the price and it features a ton of films from 1941 up till 1950, ending with Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, which many consider to be film-noir’s swan song.

As a fan of this genre, this is now one of my favorite books in my large library.

Documentary Review: American Cinema: Film Noir (1995)

Release Date: 1995
Directed by: Jeffrey Schon
Music by: Thomas Wagner
Narrated by: Richard Widmark
Hosted by: John Lithgow

PBS, 54 Minutes

Review:

I have been casually watching episodes of PBS’ documentary television series American Cinema. Since I have been watching a ton of film-noir movies for Noirvember, one of my favorite cinematic celebration months, I had to dig up the episode Film Noir. Luckily, it is streaming on YouTube, as many old PBS documentaries are.

What makes this cool when compared to other film-noir documentaries is that it doesn’t explain away the style or the elements that make noir. It focuses more on talking head interviews of actors, directors and scholars who simply just discuss film-noir. While the interviewees are alone, it still plays more like an open forum of ideas and thoughts on the noir style and its importance in American filmmaking.

It was a really nice touch that Richard Widmark, my choice for a 1950s Joker if ever there was a serious Batman movie made back then, got to narrate this short documentary. I also enjoyed seeing John Lithgow host the episode, even though he is way too young to have been in classic film-noir. But Lithgow is certainly a guy that understands film and the important things in the long history of the art.

Film Noir is one of my favorite episodes of the American Cinema series but then again, I have a strong bias in favor of noir. Ultimately, though, this is a really good educational piece on the style and its significance.

Book Review: ‘Film Noir FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Hollywood’s Golden Age of Dames, Detectives, and Danger’ by David J. Hogan

I’ve been reading a lot of books on film-noir, as of late. It is Noirvember and reading about the films I’ve been watching helps make the cinematic style easier to navigate.

This book is massive though. It took longer than usual for me to get through this 400 page book because it has so much information to absorb. It really leaves no stone unturned and I didn’t want to miss any detail. It covers well more than a hundred different films in the noir style and is the most comprehensive thing I have read on film-noir.

There are a lot of good books on the subject but this is like an encyclopedia. I also liked how it was organized, in themed chapters regarding the overall narrative and then presented in release order within those chapters. The chapters were broken down into two chapters about men vs. women and then solo chapters on The Private DickA Cop’s LifeThe Best-Laid PlansVictims of Circumstance and The Unsprung Mind. There is also an epilogue that covers the neo-noir films that started appearing after film-noir’s classic run.

David J. Hogan really did his homework and it shows. This massive book should have a home in the library of any true noir fan. The book is easy to navigate, with a great index, just in case you need to go back and look at stuff for research reasons.

Buy it. Read it. Cherish it.

Documentary Review: Val Lewton: The Man In the Shadows (2007)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2007
Directed by: Kent Jones
Narrated by: Martin Scorsese, Elias Koteas

Turner Classic Movies (TCM), Turner Entertainment, Sikelia Productions, 77 Minutes

Review:

I remember seeing this on television a decade ago and it is where I really discovered who Val Lewton is and why his contribution to the film industry was so important.

When I was a kid, I discovered classic film early, as my mother and grandmother were both avid watchers of AMC, which at the time still stood for American Movie Classics. I also watched a lot of TCM, or Turner Classic Movies, when that cable network debuted. I got pulled in to old school horror, as I loved the Universal Monsters movies, Vincent Price’s Edgar Allan Poe pictures and the movies put out by Hammer with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. I didn’t quite experience Val Lewton’s body of work though, until years later.

My appreciation for all that other stuff, really gave me the foundation to appreciate and understand what Lewton was trying to do for RKO Radio Pictures. His mission was to run the B-movie unit for the studio, where he and the artists he brought in, would create films to rival what Universal was doing with all their successful Monster franchises.

I’m glad that I found this on television a decade ago and it was really fantastic revisiting it now, as it is streaming on FilmStruck.

It is produced and narrated by Martin Scorsese with Elias Koteas jumping in to narrate Val Lewton’s actual words.

It is a nice and quick documentary that covers a lot of ground and gives a good amount of time to each of Lewton’s pictures. It also gets into how his collaborations with Boris Karloff came to be and how Lewton initially didn’t want to work with Karloff but quickly grew to love the man’s work, as he helped contribute to these films, which were much more psychological and intelligent than the majority of Universal’s horror pictures.

Lewton created horror movies that had a noir style about them. In fact, his films sort of built a bridge between German Expressionist horror movies like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the film-noir movement of the 1940s.

If you love classic horror or film-noir and haven’t seen Lewton’s films, you need to. You should also check out this documentary, which is a great primer on the man and his work.

Book Review: ‘Citizen Welles: A Biography of Orson Welles’ by Frank Brady

In recent years, I have grown to like Orson Welles more than any other actor and he is now one of my favorite directors that ever lived.

My first experience with Welles was listening to his War of the Worlds radio broadcast in an American history class in middle school. I had a really cool teacher that would throw in some big pop culture moments into her curriculum, as opposed to just teaching about war and politics.

My second experience was in my film studies class in high school, where my teacher showed us Citizen Kane. I remember being completely captivated by the film, even if the other teenagers were just waiting for the class to get to more modern pictures.

Welles also voiced Unicron in the 1986 animated Transformers movie, which was also a big deal to me even if he had no idea what the film was about and just dialed in his lines.

All these experiences made me have an appreciation for Welles as an artist but it wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I started watching his other pictures.

What I didn’t know, is that Welles had an incredibly interesting life and this book covers more ground than I could even imagine.

Citizen Welles is a pretty large biography. It is around 600 pages but Welles lived such an interesting, rich and full life that there were no dull moments. Initially, I wanted a book that specifically covered his work but the man’s life really rivals that of his most famous character Charles Foster Kane.

This book was a big surprise and it is a pretty invaluable resource on the life and work of Orson Welles.

Frank Brady did his research and it shows. There are few biographies that are this comprehensive.

Plus, it is well written, well organized and never gets dull. I got through this 600 page brick in a week. But it also provided a solid distraction, as I was dealing with the after effects of Hurricane Irma.

Documentary Review: Film Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light (2006)

Release Date: July 18th, 2006
Directed by: Gary Leva

Leva Filmworks, 68 Minutes

Review:

Right out of the gate, I’ve got to say that this is one of the best documentaries that I’ve seen on film-noir. There was one other good one that was either on TCM or AMC back in the 90s but I haven’t been able to track that one down. This is pretty damn thorough though.

For only being 68 minutes, Bringing Darkness to Light is incredibly comprehensive and covers a lot of ground.

This goes through the history of film-noir, especially on how it developed and came to be. It discusses its roots in German Expressionism and gets into why the cinematography was done in the style that became synonymous with noir.

It also covers some of the stars, directors and has a section discussing the music style used in these films. It also clears up a lot of misconceptions on noir, especially in regards to how people somehow associate jazz with noir, even though most of these movies didn’t feature brass instruments in their soundtracks.

The film has real legitimacy, simply for the fact that Eddie Muller, the “Czar of Noir”, is one of the people interviewed. It’s also pretty cool to see Henry Rollins in this, expressing his views on film-noir.

The best thing about this, at least for right now, is that it is streaming for free on YouTube. Stuff like this pops up from time to time but can get pulled down, if someone puts a copyright claim on it. Check it out, while you can. Assuming you’re a fan of film-noir. But if you weren’t, why would you have read this far?