Gilbert Taylor, whose vast cinematography credits included the first Star Wars for George Lucas, Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove and Richard Donner’s The Omen, died today in his native UK. He was 99. Taylor’s list of film DP credits are striking in their diversity: He lensed the Beatles pic A Hard Day’s Night, Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy and worked several times with Roman Polanski on films including Repulsion, Cul-de-Sac and Macbeth. The BBC quoted Taylor’s wife that the DP “turned down a Bond picture” to work with Polanski “because he thought Roman was a very interesting guy”. Polanski returned the complement, saying in his 1984 biography Roman that he wanted Taylor for 1965’s Repulsion after seeing his past work: “As I saw it, the only person who could do justice to our black-and-white picture was Gil Taylor, whose photography on Dr. Strangelove had deeply impressed me. I also saw his wonderful work on A Hard Day’s Night; Richard Lester, the director, was mixing it at Twickenham Studios, where Repulsion was to be made. [Our executive producer, Michael] Klinger protested that Gil Taylor was one of the most expensive cameramen in the business, but I held out for Taylor and I got him.” Taylor earned BAFTA nominations for Repulsion (1965) and Cul-De-Sac (1966), and he won the American Cinematographers Society’s ASC International Achievement award in 2006. But he was best known for Lucas’ 1977 watershed sci-fi film Star Wars. From the ASC magazine in a 2006 interview:
Consumed by the details of the complicated production, “George avoided all meetings and contact with me from day one, so I read the extra-long script many times and made my own decisions as to how I would shoot the picture,” says Taylor. “I took it upon myself to experiment with photographing the lightsabers and other things onstage before we moved on to our two weeks of location work in Tunisia.” One of the first [Star Wars] scenes shot in Tunisia shows C-3PO and R2-D2 making their way across the dunes of Tatooine. The production was hampered by inclement weather — the first rain there in years — and “you couldn’t really see where the land ended and the sky began,” says Taylor. “It was all a gray mess, and the robots were just a blur.” Given the situation, Lucas’ request for heavy filtration perplexed the cinematographer. “I thought the look of the film should be absolutely clean; also, I was mindful that there was an enormous amount of process work to be done in America after we finished shooting in England, and I knew a crisp result would help. But George saw it a differently, so we tried using nets and other diffusion. He asked to set up one shot on the robots with a 300mm, and the sand and sky just mushed together. I told him it wouldn’t work, but he said that was the way he wanted to do the entire film, all diffused.” This creative difference was resolved by 20th Century Fox executives, who saw the results of Lucas’ approach and backed Taylor’s recommendation.