Living Life in the Wrong Order: Jack Cardiff and the Integrated Narrative

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‘In my mind this light is the light in which cinema was invented.’
Martin Scorsese, on Jack Cardiff

I recently watched a documentary (‘Cameraman,’ 2010) and a play (Terry Johnson’s ‘Prism’) about the legendary cinematographer, Jack Cardiff (1914-2009).

Cardiff began his life in film as a clapper boy in the silent era. He went on to become a master of the Technicolor age. He shot the likes of Dietrich, Niven, Bogart, Hepburn, Gardner, Monroe and Loren. In the latter part of his career he was an accomplished director, and in his seventies he applied his expertise to the world of digital.

‘For his inventions, imagination and sheer audacity, there has never been another colour cameraman like Jack Cardiff.’
Michael Powell

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Cardiff’s greatest work was with the film-making duo Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Together they created the icons of British cinema, ‘A Matter of Life and Death,’ ‘Black Narcissus’ and ‘The Red Shoes.’ These are films of bold ambition, rich invention and touching romance.

Cardiff was an avid student of Rembrandt, Vermeer and Turner, and he regarded the cameraman as ‘the man who paints the movie.’ He gave us lush green forests, blood-orange sunsets and ominous dark shadows; he produced iridescent purples, vibrant pinks and luminous turquoises; he conjured up disarming flashes of passionate crimson lips, intimate close-ups on smouldering brown eyes.

‘He gave me half of my performance with the lighting.’
Kathleen Byron, Actor, Black Narcissus

I was quite taken with one particular observation Cardiff made in his autobiography, ‘Magic Hour.’ Looking back on his career, he reflected on the disordered structure of most of our lives.

‘It would be far more conducive growing old gracefully if our lives were lived in a rewarding and heartening sequence. Submit your life to any decent script editor and they’d reject it on structure alone.’

This theme is taken up in Johnson’s excellent play.

 ‘A real life does not boast a satisfying story arc. We are doomed to live the events of our lives in the wrong damn order; it’s like shooting a film, not watching one…The time of our lives is not the finished masterpiece; it’s just whatever we got in the can today.’

It’s true that our lives are often messy, complex and chaotic. We behave erratically and inconsistently. We are overtaken by events, by relationships, and circumstances beyond our control. We tend to live our lives in the wrong order.

I understand that in the world of psychotherapy patients are encouraged to create an ‘integrated narrative’: a single story that accommodates diverse experiences and relationships; that makes sense of the past and present, both logically and intuitively; that gives some direction for the future; that is recognisable as one’s own. An integrated narrative provides a certain amount of meaning, identity and purpose to one’s life.

I suspect that brands and businesses could do with integrated narratives too. So often a brand acquires associations and characteristics that are somewhat contradictory and at odds. So often a business is led by groups of people with very different points of view. So often decisions are made and affairs are played out in the wrong order. In such circumstances all would benefit from a coherent story that accommodates these multiple events and perspectives; that binds the disparate threads together into one fabric.

I’m well aware that many are sceptical of talk of storytelling. It sometimes seems too easy, flip and commonplace. But I have found that narrative continues to be a valuable tool in life and business. Stories are universal and timeless precisely because they make sense when we are confused; they unite us when we are divided; they provide direction when we are lost.

In Johnson’s play Cardiff quotes the director John Huston with whom he shot the Bogart-Hepburn classic ‘The African Queen’:

‘We’ve all got a strip of celluloid running though us. It’s got a thousand images on it and it’s a fragile thing. But if you are an artist you are going to cut and colour and grade and project that celluloid back at the world, because our past is all we’ve got to give.’ 

No. 156

Me, Myself and I: What Kind of Self-Portrait Would We Paint for Our Brands?

Cristofano Allori 'Judith with the Head of Holofernes'

Cristofano Allori 'Judith with the Head of Holofernes'

There’s a myth that the first person to draw was a shepherd who traced his own shadow in the dust with his staff.  It’s telling perhaps that man’s first picture was of himself, a selfie. We are social animals, but we are also enormously self-centred.

This myth of ‘the invention of the art of drawing’ is captured in an engraving at an excellent exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery in London. ‘Portrait of the Artist’ embraces all manner of images of artists, both self-portraits and pictures by colleagues, pupils and friends. (It runs until 17 April.)

One cannot help but be fascinated by self-portraits. Here we get to observe what other people see in the mirror; to assess how they present themselves to the world; to see how they want to be seen.

There were practical reasons for artists to engage in self-portraiture. Drawing or painting oneself provided the opportunity to practice, experiment and explore; to consider different facial expressions, moods or pictorial styles. And the models came free.

But artists had other motivations. Sometimes they wanted to leave mementos of themselves for family and loved ones. Sometimes they sought to advertise their talent to potential clients. Sometimes they wanted to celebrate their status or success to a broader public. And sometimes they had a message to pass on.

Edwin Landseer 'The Connoisseurs: Portrait of the Artist with Two Dogs'

Edwin Landseer 'The Connoisseurs: Portrait of the Artist with Two Dogs'

Artists’ choice of context and theme was often telling. Sebastiano Ricci painted himself attending to Christ teaching in the temple. Johan Zoffany recorded himself amongst his fellow Royal Academicians. Jan Steen depicted himself watching card-players in a pub. These artists were declaring their piety, their prestige, their lack of pretension. Edwin Landseer portrayed himself with his dogs looking over his shoulder admiring his draftsmanship. He seems to be suggesting that they at least properly appreciate his work.

Occasionally artists would adopt mythical roles in order to signal a coded theme. Artemesia Gentileschi presented herself as the female personification of painting itself, La Pittura, a conceit unavailable to her male colleagues. Cristofano Allori portrayed himself as Holofernes beheaded by Judith. He modelled the figure of Judith on his former lover, ’La Mazzafirra,’ and had her mother standing by as the murderer’s assistant.

Of course, often self-portraiture expressed intense self-reflection. Lucian Freud peers out from the midst of deep shadows, his eyes dark with world-weary experience. Maria Cosway stares at us with arms folded as if to indicate her disappointment or disdain. And then there is Rembrandt. He put on costume and fancy dress, but painted himself with unflinching honesty: scrutinising the decay of age, the regret and yearning within.

Rembrandt  'Self-Portrait in a Flat Cap'

Rembrandt  'Self-Portrait in a Flat Cap'

One departs the exhibition with a strong sense of the complexity of the human psyche; of the layered self. When we look in the mirror we see many images of ourselves. We are self-centred and self-satisfied; self-doubting and self-deluding. We self-publish and self-promote. We are self-obsessed.

Maria Cosway 'A Self-Portrait '

Maria Cosway 'A Self-Portrait '

You would think that in the field of marketing and communication we would be well versed in the contours and complexities of the layered self. But, whilst many of us in the business tend towards solipsism, how often do we subject our own brands to proper scrutiny? How often do we assess them from within rather from without?

What kind of self-portrait would we paint for our own brands? Would we be puffed up and proud, keen to promote our prestige and status? Would we, like a teenager taking a selfie, betray our own fickle airs and shallow affectations? Or would we, like Rembrandt, be honest, searching and direct?

Perhaps we too should occasionally take a long hard look in the mirror.

 

‘Mirror, mirror on the wall.
Tell me mirror what is wrong?
Can it be my De La clothes?
Or is it just my De La song?
It’s just me, myself and I.
It’s just me, myself and I.’

De La Soul, Me, Myself and I

 

No. 117