'Star Wars' Cinematographer Gilbert Taylor Dies at 99

Peter Brook (left) and Cameraman Gilbert Taylor (far right) on location filming "Meetings With Remarkable Men", 1979.
Peter Brook (left) and Cameraman Gilbert Taylor (far right) on location filming "Meetings With Remarkable Men", 1979.
 Courtesy of Everett Collection

Gilbert Taylor, the famed British cinematographer who shot the first Star Wars film for George Lucas, Dr. Strangelove for Stanley Kubrick, Repulsion for Roman Polanski and The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, has died. He was 99.

Taylor died Friday at his home on the Isle of Wight, his wife, Dee, told the BBC.

During a career that began as assistant cameraman on 1930's Rookery Nook and lasted almost 65 years, Taylor also worked on the war drama Ice Cold in Alex (1958); The Bedford Incident (1965); Alfred Hitchcock's penultimate film, Frenzy (1972); Richard Donner's horror classic The Omen (1976); the Frank Langella-starring Dracula (1979); and the fantasy Flash Gordon (1980).

Two films that he shot for Polanski -- the nightmarish black-and-white horror film Repulsion (1965), starring Catherine Deneuve, and Cul-de-Sac (1966) -- earned Taylor BAFTA nominations in consecutive years. He also shot the director's MacBeth (1971) and the Polanski-written A Day at the Beach (1972).

Taylor did special effects photography on war movie The Dam Busters (1955) and shot episodes of the 1960s TV series The Avengers. He retired from film work in 1994.

In an interview published in American Cinematographer magazine in 2006, when he was given the society's International Achievement Award, Taylor described his work on Star Wars (1977).

“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,” he said. “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.

“I am most happy to be remembered as the man who set the look for Star Wars. I wanted to give it 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 don’t think space is out of focus.”

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For Hard Day's Night, Taylor shot the film, directed by Richard Lester, like a documentary. He covered a frantic scene in a train station like a sporting event.

“There was very little lighting of any sort, as the authorities would not allow us to control the station in any way,” he said in the ASC interview. “We also had a very limited budget and couldn’t afford generators, so any fill was coming from a small, handheld, battery-powered lamp. They wouldn’t have let us bring generators or cables onto the platform anyway.”

For The Omen, Taylor covered a zoom lens with a silk stocking to produce a soft look. "The photography is very realistic, but that touch of diffusion gives it a bit of a dreamlike look," he said.

And for Dr. Strangelove, he described photographing the war room on Kubrick's 1964 Cold War satire: "Lighting that set was sheer magic," he later recalled. "I don't quite know how I got away with it all."

Taylor turned down a James Bond picture to work with Polanski on Repulsion. The director hired him after seeing his work on Dr. Strangelove.

Born in Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire, in 1914, Taylor worked as a camera assistant at Gainsborough Studios in London. He served six years with the Royal Air Force during World War II, shooting the results of nighttime raids over Germany at the request of Winston Churchill.

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