GREAT CINEMATOGRAPHERS


#1: From interview [1999]

 

   


GILBERT TAYLOR

 

Born: 21 April 1914, Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire, UK. A.k.a. Gil Taylor.

Died: 23 August 2013, Newport, Isle of Wight, UK.

Career: 'The son of a prosperous builder, Gilbert Taylor was being groomed to join the family business. "At the age of 15, I was studying to be an architect but didn't want to be an architect and didn't want to go into the building trade," he recalls. When a fortuitous offer of a camera-assistant job was made by a neighbor, "my perceptive mother persuaded father, who was against it because the film industry was full of 'harridans, whores and gypsies,' to let me take the job. I entered the film industry in 1929 as assistant to William Shenton, a top cinematographer. I went to drive for [him], going to and from Isleworth, London. He was fond of his drink so needed someone to drive him around. We made the last two silent pictures to be made at Gainsborough Studios, Islington, and my first work was to hand crank a wooden Williamson camera and load film. I even acted in a few movies. After that, Bill took me to Pathé Studios in Paris to make several French boxing movies, and then we went back to Gainsborough in London, where we made 'Third Time Lucky', my first sound picture. After eight months, I went to Elstree Studios to assist and load film for Freddie Young. Freddie was the kind of man who would have you scrape the darkroom floor with a penknife and polish it, and would then walk in with muddy boots and complain that it was still filthy. But I learned a lot from such cameraman as Fritz [Franz] Planer, Percy Strong and Günther Krampf, and they let me do second-unit work when they were tied up. They took the credit, but I learned from it!" By 1934, Taylor was also taking assignments as an operator, and he continued doing this for the next five years. In November 1939, he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He distinguished himself with six years of wartime service as an officer and operational cameraman. He was trained to fly as a mid-upper gunner in Lancaster bombers, but his primary mission was to photograph the targets of 1,000-plane nighttime raids over Germany after the bombs were dropped. "I did 10 of those operations, including raids on Cologne and Dresden. On the opening of the second front, I took a small operational unit of cameramen to cover every kind of news story, including the [liberation of the] concentration camps and the [signing of the] armistice." After the war, Taylor returned to the studio and worked as an operator for Jack Hildyard and Harry Waxman, among others, but it wasn't long before he caught a career-making break: "I operated for Günther Krampf on 'Fame Is the Spur' in 1946, and he asked me to photograph his second unit. I shot a dream sequence in which the army attacks a gang of striking miners," explains Taylor. "They wanted it done in deep focus with heavy filtration, and I did it. I was given great praise and then wanted to forget operating!" [From article by David E. Williams in 'American Cinematographer', February 2006.]

Ph commercials dir by John Hough, a.o.

Directed ep #14 'The Man from X' [1969; ph: Frank Watts] of the 28-part tv-series 'Department S'.

Was a member [later honorary member] of the BSC.

Appeared in the doc's 'Behind the Camera' [1999; for BBC-tv] & 'Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove' [2000, David Naylor].

Awards: BSC Lifetime Achievement Award [2001]; ASC International Achievement Award [2006].



Obituary: The British cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, who has died aged 99, was best known for his camerawork on the first 'Star Wars' movie [1976].

"I wanted to give it a unique visual style that would distinguish it from other films in the science-fiction genre," Taylor declared. "I wanted 'Star Wars' to have clarity because I don't think space is out of focus ... I thought the look of the film should be absolutely clean ... But George [Lucas] saw it differently ... For example, he asked to set up one shot on the robots with a 300mm camera lens and the sand and sky of the Tunisian desert just meshed together. I told him it wouldn't work, but he said that was the way he wanted to do the entire film, all diffused." Fortunately for everyone, this creative difference was resolved by 20th Century Fox executives, who backed Taylor's approach.

Despite his 'Star Wars' fame, Taylor was a master of black-and-white cinematography. Witness the splendor of Stanley Kubrick's 'Dr. Strangelove', Richard Lester's 'A Hard Day's Night' and Roman Polanski's 'Repulsion'.

Gilbert Taylor was born in Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire. The son of a prosperous builder, he was expected to join the family business, but his mother was perceptive enough to persuade his father to let him take a camera-assistant job.

At 15, he worked as assistant on the last two silent films made at Gainsborough Studios, in London. He soon went to Elstree Studios, to the north of the city, where he was clapper-loader on Alfred Hitchcock's 'Number Seventeen' [1932]. More significantly, he was assistant to Freddie Young on Herbert Wilcox's 'Nell Gwyn' [1934] and Paul Czinner's 'Escape Me Never' [1935].

Taylor's apprenticeship was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War, when he joined the Royal Air Force volunteer reserve, his primary mission being to photograph the targets of nocturnal raids over Germany after the bombs were dropped.

After the war, Taylor returned to studio work as camera operator on two Boulting Brothers pictures, 'Fame Is the Spur' and 'Brighton Rock', for which he did some second-unit photography. This impressed John and Roy Boulting, especially his work on a deep-focus dream sequence in the former. As a result the producer-director twins gave Taylor his first job as director of photography on 'The Guinea Pig' [1948].

It was then that Taylor started using bounced or reflected light. The indirect lighting of a subject or background gave the films a more naturalistic look, in contrast to the glossier direct light used by most of his contemporaries. This method was particularly effective in the realistic monochrome pictures directed by J. Lee Thompson.

In contrast, also for Thompson, was 'Ice Cold in Alex' [1958], much of it shot in Libya, brilliantly capturing the heat and dust of the desert, as John Mills and company battle to get an ambulance to Alexandria after the fall of Tobruk in 1942.

Away from gritty realism, but still using black and white, Taylor linked up with Richard Lester for two groundbreaking pop musicals, 'It's Trad, Dad!' and 'A Hard Day's Night'. "Dick's enthusiasm for music and film-making blended in mad unison appealed to my mental and physical state at the time," Taylor commented. "When the Beatles came of age, I was given a poor script by Dick, who said we basically had to make it up as we went along. The only thing set was the music; the rest we had to invent daily! The raw quality of the shoot was there onscreen."

'Dr. Strangelove' gave Taylor fresh challenges. "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," Taylor explained. This strategy is exemplified by the elaborate scenes set in the war room, designed by Ken Adam, with a gleaming, black Formica floor and a wide circular table lit by a ring of overhead fluorescent fixtures.

When Taylor was asked to shoot 'Repulsion' [1964], he turned down the chance to make the James Bond movie 'Thunderball'. "Our first day's shooting left me amazed and a bit perturbed by Gil Taylor's way of doing things," Polanski wrote in his autobiography. "He mostly used reflected light bounced off the ceiling or walls and never consulted a light meter. As the rushes were shown, however, he possessed such an unerring eye that his exposures were invariably perfect. We differed on only one point: Gil disliked a wide-angle lens for close-ups of Catherine Deneuve, a device I needed in order to convey her mental disintegration. 'I hate doing this to a beautiful woman,' he used to mutter."

When Hitchcock invited Taylor to be his director of photography on his penultimate film, 'Frenzy' [1971], he had no recollection of the 18-year-old clapper-loader who had worked for him exactly 40 years previously. "Hitchcock never looked through the camera," recalled Taylor. "He would give me a list of shots and ask: 'Can we do this today?' I had to persuade him to go to rushes after nearly four weeks."

Taylor retired from films in 1994, but continued to shoot commercials for a few years. Most of his retirement was spent painting and farming, but he still got a kick out of being contacted by 'Star Wars' fans for his autograph. [From obituary by Ronald Bergan in The Guardian, 25 August 2013.]


 

 FILMS

1942

Operational Height/Last Hazard [Arthur Taylor] b&w; doc/33m; cph: Skeets Kelly; prod RAF Film Production Unit

1944

Journey Together [John Boulting] b&w; assoc ph; ph: Harry Waxman; 3uc: Stanley W. Sayer; prod RAF Film Production Unit

1948

The Guinea Pig/The Outsider [Roy Boulting] b&w

1950

Seven Days to Noon [John Boulting] b&w; assoc ph: Ray Sturgess

1950

Circle of Danger [Jacques Tourneur] b&w; addph; ph: Oswald Morris

1951

High Treason [Roy Boulting] b&w; cph: Ray Sturgess

1952

The Yellow Balloon [J. Lee Thompson] b&w

1952

Gift Horse/Glory at Sea [Compton Bennett] b&w; 2uc; ph: Harry Waxman

1952

Single-Handed/Sailor of the King [Roy Boulting] b&w

1953

The Dam Busters [Michael Anderson] b&w; sfx ph; ph: Erwin Hillier

1953

The Weak and the Wicked/Young and Willing [J. Lee Thompson] b&w

1953

Seagulls Over Sorrento/Crest of the Wave [John & Roy Boulting] b&w; 2uc: Skeets Kelly

1953

Trouble in the Glen [Herbert Wilcox] c; uncred cph; ph: Max Greene

1953

Front Page Story [Gordon Parry] b&w

1955

Josephine and Men [Roy Boulting] c; cph: Ray Sturgess

1955

As Long as They're Happy [J. Lee Thompson] c

1955

It's Great to Be Young! [Cyril Frankel] c

1956

Yield to the Night/Blonde Sinner [J. Lee Thompson] b&w

1956

My Wife's Family [Gilbert Gunn] c

1956

The Silken Affair [Roy Kellino] b&w

1956

The Good Companions [J. Lee Thompson] cs/c

1957

Woman in a Dressing Gown [J. Lee Thompson] b&w

1957

No Time for Tears [Cyril Frankel] cs/c

1958

Ice Cold in Alex/Desert Attack [J. Lee Thompson] b&w; 2uc: Norman Warwick

1958

She Didn't Say No! [Cyril Frankel] c

1958

Alive and Kicking [Cyril Frankel] b&w

1958

No Trees in the Street [J. Lee Thompson] b&w

1959

Operation Bullshine/Girls in Arms [Gilbert Gunn] c

1959

Tommy the Toreador [John Paddy Carstairs] c

1959

Bottoms Up [Mario Zampi] b&w

1960

Sands of the Desert [John Paddy Carstairs] c

1960

The Full Treatment/Stop Me Before I Kill! [Val Guest] MegaScope/b&w

1960

The Rebel/Call Me Genius [Robert Day] c; 2uc: Lionel Banes

1961

Petticoat Pirates [David MacDonald] cs/c; 2uc: Skeets Kelly

 

 

1961

A Prize of Arms [Cliff Owen] b&w; cph: Gerald Gibbs

1962

It's Trad, Dad!/Ring-a-Ding Rhythm [Richard Lester] b&w

1962

The Punch and Judy Man [Jeremy Summers] b&w

1962

Hide and Seek [Cy Endfield] b&w

1963

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [Stanley Kubrick] b&w

1964

A Hard Day's Night [Richard Lester] b&w

1964

Ferry Cross the Mersey [Jeremy Summers] b&w

1964

Repulsion [Roman Polanski] b&w; uncred cph: Stanley A. Long

1964

The Bedford Incident [James B. Harris] b&w

1965

Theatre of Death/Blood Fiend/The Female Fiend [Samuel Gallu] ts/c

 

 

1965

Cul-de-sac [Roman Polanski] b&w

1965

2001: A Space Odyssey [Stanley Kubrick] sp70/c; uncred co-addph; ph: Geoffrey Unsworth

1966

The Man Outside [Samuel Gallu] ts/c

1967

Work Is a Four Letter Word [Peter Hall] c

1968

Before Winter Comes [J. Lee Thompson] c

1968

A Nice Girl Like Me [Desmond Davis] c; cph: Manny Wynn

1969

A Day at the Beach [Simon Hesera] c

1969

Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx/Fun Loving [Waris Hussein] c

1970

Macbeth/The Tragedy of Macbeth [Roman Polanski] tao35/c

 

With dir Alfred Hitchcock [left] - "Frenzy"

 

1971

Frenzy [Alfred Hitchcock] c; uncred cph: Leonard South

1972

The Deadly Trackers/Riata [Barry Shear (replaced Samuel Fuller)] c; worked as ph with dir S. Fuller; ph: Gabriel Torres

1973

Soft Beds, Hard Battles/Undercovers Hero [Roy Boulting] c

1975

The Omen/Omen I [: The Antichrist] [: The Birthmark] [Richard Donner] p/c

 

With dir George Lucas [right] - "Star Wars"

 

1976

Star Wars [George Lucas] p (+ 70bu)/c; 2uc: Carroll Ballard, Rick Clemente, Robert Dalva & Tak Fujimoto; miniature & optical efx ph: Richard Edlund, Bruce Logan (2u) & Dennis Muren (2nd cam); see 1996

1977

Meetings with Remarkable Men [Peter Brook] c

1977

Damien: Omen II [Don Taylor] p/c; Israel ph; ph: Bill Butler

1978

Escape to Athena [George Pan Cosmatos] p/c; aph: Ron Goodman

 

 

1978

Dracula [John Badham] p/c; addph: Leslie Dear & Harry Oakes

1979

Flash Gordon [Mike Hodges (replaced Nicolas Roeg)] tao35/c; addph: Harry Waxman; skies ph: Harry Oakes

1980

Green Ice [Ernest Day] c; 2uc: Ronald Taylor; aph: Ron Goodman

1980

Venom [Piers Haggard (replaced Tobe Hooper)] c; 2uc: Frank Watts & Neil Binney; addph: Denys Coop

1981

Conan the Barbarian [John Milius] was fired about 3 weeks into shooting and replaced by Duke Callaghan

1981

Losin' It [Curtis Hanson] c

1983

Lassiter [Roger Young] c

1984

Voyage of the Rock Aliens [James Fargo & (first mus seq) Bob Giraldi] c; ph first mus seq: Dante Spinotti

1986

The Bedroom Window [Curtis Hanson] J-D-C Scope/c

1986

Single Room [Wolfgang Panzer] scheduled to start in August; status unknown

1992

Don't Get Me Started/Psychotherapy [Arthur Ellis] c        

1996

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope [George Lucas] 1976 version + 4m new footage; see 1976

 

 TELEVISION

1966

The Avengers [ep #102 'A Sense of History' dir by Peter Graham Scott] 161-part series, 1961-69; 4th season, 1965-66/b&w; other ph: Lionel Banes, Alan Hume, Ernest Steward & Gerry Turpin

1966

The Baron [12 ep dir by various] 30-part series, 1966-67; other ph: James Allen & Frank Watts

1967

The Avengers [ep #129 'Invasion of the Earthmen' dir by Don Sharp] 7th season/c, 1968-69; other ph: Stephen Dade, Alan Hume, a.o.; see 1966

1968

The Avengers [ep #130 'The Curious Case of the Countless Clues' dir by Don Sharp (DS), #131 'The Forget-Me-Knot' dir by James Hill (JH), #132 'Split!' dir by Roy Ward Baker, #133 'Get-A-Way!' dir by DS & #135 'Look - (stop me if you've heard this one) But There Were These Two Fellers...' dir by JH] 7th season, 1968-69/c; see 1966

1969

The Avengers [ep #158 'Homicide and Old Lace' dir by John Hough] 7th season, 1968-69/c; see 1966

1969

Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased)/My Partner the Ghost [ep #1 'My Late Lamented Friend and Partner' dir by Cyril Frankel] 26-part series, 1969-70; 2uc: Gerald Moss

1972

Pathfinders [ep #2 'For Better, for Worse' dir by Jeremy Summers (JS), #5 'Jonah Man' dir by JS, #9 'Codename: Gomorrah' dir by Robert Asher, #10 'Sweets from a Stranger' dir by Harry Booth & #13 'In the Face of the Enemy' dir by Leslie Norman] 13-part series, 1972-73; other ph: Stephen Dade & Brendan J. Stafford

1973

The New-Fangled Wandering Minstrel Show [Buddy Bregman] mus special/49m

1977

Breaking Up [Delbert Mann] tvm

 

 FILMS AS CAMERA ASSISTANT/OPERATOR

1930

Rookery Nook/One Embarrassing Night [Tom Walls & (superv) Byron Haskin] c.asst; ph: David Kesson, (uncred) Freddie Young & (uncred) Bernard Knowles

1930

Third Time Lucky [Walter Forde] c.asst; ph: William Shenton

1931

Many Waters [Milton Rosmer] c.asst; ph: Henry Gerrard & Hal Young

1932

Number Seventeen/Number 17 [Alfred Hitchcock] clapper-loader; ph: John J. Cox & Bryan Langley

1934

Nell Gwyn [Herbert Wilcox] c.asst; ph: Freddie Young

1934

Escape Me Never [Paul Czinner] c.asst; ph: Freddie Young, Sepp Allgeier & Georges Périnal

1935

Turn of the Tide [Norman Walker] 2u c.asst; ph: Fritz (Franz) Planer

1939

The Lambeth Walk/Me and My Girl [Albert de Courville] c.asst; ph: Francis Carver

1946

School for Secrets/Secret Flight [Peter Ustinov] c.op; ph: Jack Hildyard

1946

Fame Is the Spur [Roy Boulting] c.op addph (+ 2uc); addph: Harry Waxman; ph: Günther Krampf & (uncred) Stanley Pavey

1947

Brighton Rock/Young Scarface [John Boulting] c.op; ph: Harry Waxman

1947

My Brother Jonathan [Harold French] loc c.op; ph: Derick Williams