By Raphael Satter - The Associated Press
LONDON – Gilbert Taylor was a master of black and white and a master of different universes.
Taylor, the influential “Star Wars” cinematographer who worked on a number of stellar films alongside some of the world’s most famous directors, died on Friday at the age of 99, according to the British Society of Cinematographers.
Dee Taylor, his wife, told the BBC News that her husband died at their home on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England.
Born in Bushey Heath, a small town 20 miles (32 kilometres) north of London, Taylor entered the British film industry as a teenager against the wishes of his father, who warned him that the movie business was full of ne’er-do-wells, according to a 2006 biographical sketch posted to the American Society of Cinematographers’ website.
Taylor joined the movie industry at the tail end of the silent film era, running errands and occasionally acting. Within a year, Taylor said he was hooked,” captivated by the magic smells of film stock, acetone, and makeup.” He spent the next few years doing stints behind the camera before joining the war effort in 1930s, putting his film skills to use by capturing footage of nighttime bombing raids over Germany — films which he said were sent directly to Winston Churchill’s No. 10 Downing Street office.
After the allies invaded France, Taylor followed with a unit of cameramen, filming the liberation of Nazi concentration camps and the signing of the armistice.
“You may ask how these experiences helped to prepare me for my film career,” he was quoted as saying in the sketch. “Well, they certainly made me tougher.”
Taylor caught his break while working for John and Roy Boulting — the brothers were a powerful force in postwar British cinema — and went on to make seven more features for the pair, including “Seven Hours to Noon,” a thriller whose atomic age paranoia would prefigure his work on Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”
He was the director of photography on several distinctive black-and-white classics, including Richard Lester’s Beatlemania chronicle “A Hard Day’s Night,” and had dozens of credits to his name, working with a range of directors, including George Lucas, Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski. He also worked on television series, including the very popular “The Avengers.”
In a comment cited in the sketch, Taylor said he was “most happy to be remembered as the man who set the look for Star Wars.”
That wasn’t easy. The sketch alludes to clashes with George Lucas and a black-and-white set design that left little room for lighting of any kind. He said the Death Star, in particular, was “like a coal mine.” He solved the problem by punching quartz lights through John Berry’s set.
“I wanted to give it a unique visual style that would distinguish it from other films in the science-fiction genre,” he was quoted as saying. “I wanted ‘Star Wars’ to have clarity because I don’t think space is out of focus.”
Gilbert Taylor’s biographical sketch: http://www.theasc.com/magazine/feb06/taylor/page1.html