Obituary: Gilbert Taylor / Celebrated Hollywood cinematographer

April 12, 1914 - Aug. 23, 2013

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Gilbert Taylor, the British cinematographer behind hit movies like "Star Wars," "The Omen" and "Dr. Strangelove," died Friday at his home on the Isle of Wight. He was 99.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Dee, the BBC reported.

Mr. Taylor brought a cinema verite sensibility to black-and-white pictures like the 1964 Beatles comedy "A Hard Day's Night" and Stanley Kubrick's Cold War satire "Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb." He ensured that the battle footage in "Dr. Strangelove" was disturbingly realistic by shooting it like a documentary.

"Stanley could handle a camera, so I told him, 'For all this war stuff, we'll both put on battle dresses and take Arriflexes into the action,'" Mr. Taylor said in a profile in American Cinematographer. "We'll film it just like combat cameramen."

Roman Polanski chose Mr. Taylor to work on "Repulsion," his 1965 psychological thriller starring Catherine Deneuve.

"Our first day's shooting left me amazed and a bit perturbed," Mr. Polanski told the cinematography magazine. "As the rushes were shown, however, he possessed such an unerring eye that his exposures were invariably perfect."

Mr. Taylor brought a claustrophobic feel to Alfred Hitchcock's 1972 serial-killer film, "Frenzy," and used a silk stocking provided by his wife as a filter to create the soft, haunting look of the satanic horror film "The Omen." He also masterminded the bright, clean shots for "Star Wars."

The director, George Lucas, "avoided all meetings and contact with me from Day 1, so I read the extra-long script many times and made my own decisions as to how I would shoot the picture," Mr. Taylor said.

Gilbert Taylor was born in April 1914 in Bushey Heath, England. He studied to be an architect, until age 15, before becoming an assistant to an early cinematographer, William Shenton, in 1929.

He joined the Royal Air Force in 1939 and spent World War II photographing nighttime bombing raids over Germany. He took a small unit of cameramen to cover the liberation of concentration camps and the signing of the armistice in Europe.

After the war he helped shoot the political film "Fame Is the Spur" (1947) and then worked on movies like "The Guinea Pig," which starred Richard Attenborough, and "Seven Days to Noon," a thriller about paranoia over the atomic bomb.

Mr. Taylor teamed with the American director Richard Lester to film "It's Trad, Dad!," his 1961 movie about Dixieland jazz, which became a template of sorts for "A Hard Day's Night."

Mr. Taylor said he regarded his work on "Star Wars" as his greatest accomplishment.

"I am most happy to be remembered as the man who set the look for 'Star Wars,'" he said in the American Cinematographer interview. "I wanted 'Star Wars' to have clarity because I don't think space is out of focus."


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