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Gilbert Taylor

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Gilbert Taylor
Taylor with George Lucas filming Star Wars
Born(1914-04-12)12 April 1914
Died23 August 2013(2013-08-23) (aged 99)
Dee Vaughan
(m. 1967)

Gilbert Taylor, B.S.C. (12 April 1914 – 23 August 2013) was a British cinematographer,[1] best known for his work on films such as Dr. Strangelove, A Hard Day's Night (both 1964), Repulsion (1965), The Omen (1976), and Star Wars (1977). In the course of his career, he collaborated with directors like Roman Polanski, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, and Mike Hodges. He was nominated for two BAFTA Awards, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the British Society of Cinematographers.

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Early life

The son of a Hertfordshire builder, Taylor grew up in Bushey Heath. A paternal uncle was a newsreel cameraman and contact with him from the age of ten gave Taylor early experience of working with cameras and developing film stock.[2] As a teenager, he studied architecture before deciding to pursue a career in film.[3] While his father disapproved of the film industry, populated he thought by "harridans, whores and gypsies", it was his mother who consented to their son's altered career plans.[4]

A neighbour offered Taylor, aged 15, a job as a camera assistant to William Shenton, a cinematographer working for Gainsborough Studios at their Islington base. In 1929, Taylor worked on the studio's final two silent films.[3] Shenton took Taylor to Paris where he worked on two more silent films, before returning to Gainsborough.[5] He then worked at Elstree for British International Pictures, where he was clapper loader on the Alfred Hitchcock film Number Seventeen (1932). Despite his junior status, formally a second camera assistant, Taylor was entrusted with some of the special effects work, including the use of mattes, to disguise the roofs of poorly-maintained buildings.[2][5]

During six years service in World War II as an officer in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, he became an operational cameraman flying in Avro Lancaster bombers, documenting the damage after British bombing raids.[6] Taylor recalled: "This was requested by Winston Churchill, and my material was delivered to 10 Downing Street for him to view. He was keen for the public to see what our lads were doing. I did 10 of those operations, including raids on Cologne and Dresden".[7]


After demobilisation, he worked for Two Cities Films. In Fame Is the Spur (1947), he worked on a dream sequence using deep focus. The Boulting brothers were the co-producers of the film and they placed Taylor under contract.[8] For the Boultings, Taylor, now promoted to full cinematographer, or director of photography, shot The Guinea Pig (US, The Outsider, 1948), Seven Days to Noon (1950) and High Treason (1951).[9] From this point, Taylor began to use bounced and reflected light gaining a more naturalistic look, whereas the use of direct light was still the common practice by his contemporaries.[6][8] Because it was necessary for London to look unpopulated in Seven Days to Noon, the first of three "end of the world films" Taylor worked on, it was necessary for him to arise at five-o-clock in the morning during a seven-week shoot.[2]

Kubrick, Lester and Polanski

Taylor worked on a number of films commended for their black and white photography, such as Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove and Richard Lester's A Hard Day's Night (both 1964). Taylor, without Kubrick who was unwilling to fly in an aircraft, filmed material in the Arctic to be used as background plates in the flying sequences.[10]

He commented later: "Strangelove was at the time a unique experience because the lighting was to be incorporated in the sets, with little or no other light used". Concerning the war room set designed by Ken Adam: "Lighting that set was sheer magic, and I don’t quite know how I got away with it all". He continued: "Much of it was the same formula based on the overheads as fill and blasting in the key on faces from the side".[11] Although Kubrick and Taylor had a rapport, he found the director to be autocratic. An easier project to work on was the Richard Lester film with The Beatles which was heavily improvised.[10][12]

With Lester, Chris Pizzello wrote in 2003, Taylor "adopted a roving, multiple-camera technique (aided by new, versatile 10:1 zoom lenses) so that the Beatles could move about freely and not worry about technicalities like hitting marks. This fast, fresh brand of filmmaking was a perfect fit for the film’s tiny budget, tight schedule and simple black-and-white aesthetic".[13] Taylor and five other operators on the film used hand-held Arriflex cameras. "The key is not to hold the camera completely still", he once commented "but to let it 'breathe' with you, to move with it".[2]

His work on Dr Strangelove led Roman Polanski to seek Taylor for Repulsion (1965). In committing to the Polish director's first English-language film, Taylor rejected the opportunity to work on a Bond film (Thunderball) because he thought Polanski "was a very interesting guy".[14] According to Polanski in his 1984 autobiography, Repulsion's 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".[11] Taylor said his "aim was to get a stronger negative and good shadows in the final print. The shadows are what make good movies".[2]

Their collaboration continued with Cul-de-sac (1966) and Macbeth (1971), the third and last film he shot with Polanski. According to Ronald Bergan, "although shot in colour", Macbeth, "is as near to black and white as possible, with its grey, misty landscape".[6] Taylor received BAFTA nominations over two consecutive years for the first two collaborations.[15]

Later work in colour

Hitchcock requested Taylor work on his penultimate film Frenzy (1972). Despite a claim in Bergan's obituary of the cinematographer that Hitchcock was unaware the two men had worked together forty years earlier, according to Taylor they had stayed in touch.[2][6] Hitchcock never looked through the camera, because of his use of storyboards, leaving decisions to Taylor.[2] The tracking shot, up and down a flight of stairs and then into the street, which invisibly merged shots from a studio set and street location took a day to achieve with the switch disguised by the movement of an extra in front of the camera.[8]

Taylor's later films include The Omen (1976), and Star Wars (1977). On Star Wars, he established principles about visual aesthetics which have been maintained in the later films in the series.[12] He told Mark Newbold in 2005:

"I wanted to give Star Wars a unique visual style that would distinguish it from other films in the science fiction genre. I wanted Star Wars to have clarity because I think space isn’t out of focus, also I was mindful that there was an enormous amount of process work to be done in America with Dykstra after we had finished shooting in England, and a crisp result would help this process".[7]

Taylor found George Lucas an elusive person to consult, leading Taylor to make his own decisions as how to shoot the picture after multiple readings of the script.[11][16] Differences of opinion between the director and cinematographer led to 20th Century Fox, for whom Taylor had shot The Omen, intervening to retain him on the picture.[10] After the experience of working on Star Wars, Taylor decided he would never work again with Lucas.[2]

His last film credit was Don't Get Me Started released in 1994, but he continued to work on commercials for some time afterwards.[17]

Taylor was a founder member of the British Society of Cinematographers, receiving their lifetime achievement award in 2001.[14] He received an international award from the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) in 2006.[17]

Personal life

Taylor met his wife, former script supervisor Dee Vaughan, while both were working on comedian Tony Hancock's film, The Punch and Judy Man (1963), and married in 1967.[14] The couple had a son and daughter. Taylor also had a son and daughter from an earlier marriage. He died on 23 August 2013, aged 99, at his home on the Isle of Wight.[18]



Year Title Director Notes
1948 The Guinea Pig Roy Boulting
1950  Seven Days to Noon John Boulting
Roy Boulting
1951  High Treason Roy Boulting
1952 The Yellow Balloon J. Lee Thompson
1953 Single-Handed Roy Boulting
1954  Front Page Story Gordon Parry
 The Weak and the Wicked J. Lee Thompson
 Seagulls Over Sorrento John Boulting
Roy Boulting
 Trouble in the Glen Herbert Wilcox Uncredited
1955  As Long as They're Happy J. Lee Thompson
 Josephine and Men Roy Boulting
1956 Yield to the Night J. Lee Thompson
It's Great to Be Young Cyril Frankel
The Silken Affair Roy Kellino
My Wife's Family Gilbert Gunn
1957 The Good Companions J. Lee Thompson
Woman in a Dressing Gown
No Time for Tears Cyril Frankel
1958 Ice Cold in Alex J. Lee Thompson
She Didn't Say No! Cyril Frankel
Alive and Kicking
1959 No Trees in the Street J. Lee Thompson
Operation Bullshine Gilbert Gunn
Tommy the Toreador John Paddy Carstairs
1960 Bottoms Up Mario Zampi
Sands of the Desert John Paddy Carstairs
1961 The Full Treatment Val Guest
The Rebel Robert Day
Petticoat Pirates David MacDonald
1962 It's Trad, Dad! Richard Lester
A Prize of Arms Cliff Owen With Gerald Gibbs
1963 The Punch and Judy Man Jeremy Summers
1964 Dr. Strangelove Stanley Kubrick
Hide and Seek Cy Endfield
A Hard Day's Night Richard Lester
1965 Ferry Cross the Mersey Jeremy Summers
Repulsion Roman Polanski Nominated- BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography
The Bedford Incident James B. Harris
1966 Cul-de-sac Roman Polanski Nominated- BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography
1967 Theatre of Death Samuel Gallu
The Man Outside
1968 Work Is a Four-Letter Word Peter Hall
Before Winter Comes J. Lee Thompson
1969 A Nice Girl Like Me Desmond Davis With Manny Wynn
1970 A Day at the Beach Simon Hesera
Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx Waris Hussein
1971 Macbeth Roman Polanski
1972 Frenzy Alfred Hitchcock
1974 Soft Beds, Hard Battles Roy Boulting
1976 The Omen Richard Donner
1977 Star Wars George Lucas
1979 Escape to Athena George P. Cosmatos
Meetings with Remarkable Men Peter Brook
Dracula John Badham
1980 Flash Gordon Mike Hodges
1981 Green Ice Ernest Day
Venom Piers Haggard
1983 Losin' It Curtis Hanson
1984 Lassiter Roger Young
Voyage of the Rock Aliens James Fargo
1987 The Bedroom Window Curtis Hanson
1994 Don't Get Me Started Arthur Ellis



Year Title Notes
1969 Department S Episode "The Man from X" (Credited as "Gil Taylor")


Year Title Director Notes
1965 The Man in a Looking Glass Cyril Frankel TV movie, combination of episodes of The Baron series
1966-1967 The Baron 13 episodes
1966-1969 The Avengers 8 episodes
1969 Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) Cyril Frankel Episode "My Late Lamented Friend and Partner"
1972-1973 Pathfinders Jeremy Summers
Robert Asher
Harry Booth
4 episodes
1973 The New-Fangled Wandering Minstrel Show Buddy Bregman TV special
1978 Breaking Up Delbert Mann TV movie


  1. ^ "Gilbert Taylor". BFI. Archived from the original on 11 July 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Hilton, Kevin (4 May 2015). "Shadows Make Good Movies". British Cinematographer. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  3. ^ a b Ellis, David A. (2012). Conversations with Cinematographers. Lanham, Maryland & Plymouth, England: Scarecrow Press. p. 73. ISBN 9780810881266.
  4. ^ "Gilbert Taylor". The Daily Telegraph. 25 August 2013. Retrieved 9 April 2017.
  5. ^ a b Ellis, p. 74
  6. ^ a b c d Bergan, Ronald (25 August 2013). "Gilbert Taylor obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 April 2017.
  7. ^ a b Newbold, Mark (24 July 2005). "Gil Taylor Interview". Jedi News. Archived from the original on 11 April 2017. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  8. ^ a b c Farquhar, Simon (28 August 2013). "Gilbert Taylor: Cinematographer who worked with Hitchcock, Kubrick, Polanski and Lucas". The Independent. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  9. ^ McFarlane, Brian (2003–14). "Taylor, Gilbert (1914-[2013])". BFI Screenonline. Retrieved 10 April 2017. The text is reprinted from McFarlane, Brian, ed. (2003). The Encyclopedia of British Film. London: BFI/Methuen. p. 656.
  10. ^ a b c Hughes, James (29 August 2013). "A Long Time Ago …". Slate. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  11. ^ a b c Williams, David E. (February 2006). "High Key Highlights". American Cinematographer. Retrieved 9 April 2017.
  12. ^ a b "Gilbert Taylor". The Times. London. 26 August 2016. Retrieved 9 April 2017. (subscription required)
  13. ^ Pizzello, Chris (February 2003). "A Hard Day's Night (1964)". American Cinematographer. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  14. ^ a b c "Gilbert Taylor, Star Wars cinematographer, dies aged 99". BBC News. 23 August 2013. Retrieved 9 April 2017.
  15. ^ Barnes, Mike (23 August 2013). "Star Wars Cinematographer Gilbert Taylor Dies at 99". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  16. ^ Ellis, p. 77–8
  17. ^ a b Chagollan, Steve (27 August 2013). "Star Wars Cinematographer Gilbert Taylor Dies at 99". Variety. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  18. ^ Hickey, Shane (24 August 2013). "Gilbert Taylor, Star Wars cinematographer, dies aged 99". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 September 2018.

External links

This page was last edited on 17 November 2023, at 05:46
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