‘Star Wars’ Cinematographer Gilbert Taylor Dies

Steve Chagollan

Veteran British cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, whose b&w cinematography on such classics as Richard Lester’s 1964 Beatles film “A Hard Day’s Night,” Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” and Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” rank him as one of Britain’s most revered post-war DPs, died earlier today at his home on the Isle of Wight. He was 99.

His wife Dee told BBC News that he passed away with his family at his bedside.

While the Hertfordshire native’s DP credits date back to 1948, he hit his stride in the mid-’60s with Lester’s pioneering ode to the Fab Four, a pre-curser to MTV-era pop vids of the ’80s; Kubrick’s black comedy on the Cold War, with the stark chiaroscuro of the War Room accented by a ring of lights and back-projected lamps; and two seminal collaborations with Polanski (the other film was “Cul-de-sac”) that earned him back-to-back BAFTA nominations.

In an essay on “Hard Day’s Night,” Chris Pizzello wrote in American Cinematographer that Lester and 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.”

Taylor would later make his mark on a trio of color films in the ’70s, “Macbeth,” again with Polanski at the helm, Richard Donner’s “The Omen,” and George Lucas’ “Star Wars,” which helped usher in the era of the blockbuster.

The DP’s diverse body of work also includes the Mike Hodges-helmed 1980 fantasy “Flash Gordon,” Alfred Hitchcock’s 1972 crime thriller “Frenzy” and J. Lee Thompson’s 1958 war drama “Ice Cold in Alex.”

According to his widow, he turned down a Bond pic to work with Polanski in 1965. He also shot the results of night-time raids over Germany during World War II at the request of Winston Churchill.

Taylor’s special effects credits include Michael Anderson’s 1955 classic “The Dam Busters.” He also worked in television to shoot episodes for the ’60s series “The Avengers” and “The Baron.”

Born in 1914, Taylor entered the film industry in 1929 as a camera assistant. He stopped making features in 1994, but continued shooting commercials. As a founding member of the British Society of Cinematographers, he received their lifetime achievement award in 2001. He also won the ASC’s International Award in 2006.

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