Taylor, Gilbert

Taylor, Gilbert
(1914– )
   The director of photography on DR. STRANGELOVE was born April 12, 1914, in Bushey Heath, England. He started in British films at age 15 as a camera assistant and became an eminent cinematographer by the late 1940s, with such films to his credit as Seven Days to Noon (1950), about a deranged atomic scientist who threatens to blow up London (a plot which in some ways foreshadows that of Dr. Strangelove). STANLEY KUBRICK was much taken with Taylor’s work on The Dam Busters (1955), in which the British blow up the Nazis’ Ruhr Dam during World War II. Kubrick asked Taylor to shoot the credit sequence of LOLITA (1962), which he did not get to until the film’s lighting cameraman, OSWALD MORRIS, had departed for another assignment. The credits are superimposed on a shot of Humbert’s hand caressing Lolita’s foot as he begins to paint her toenails, thereby implying the subservient nature of his infatuation with the young girl. The action is set against a background of satin drapes, and Taylor photographs the images in soft and delicate tones.
   Kubrick then brought Taylor in to photograph Dr. Strangelove (1964), in which a paranoid air force general commands a fleet of nuclear aircraft to unleash their bombs on the Soviet Union. But Taylor had to undergo a searching interview with Kubrick before he got the job. He recalls Kubrick paging through a copy of American Cinematographer, the movie cameraman’s bible, and asking him technical questions about how various process shots are accomplished through trick photography. No one else had ever dared to test Taylor in this fashion, in order to ascertain if he was technically qualified to shoot a film.
   Taylor had served as a combat photographer during World War II and had flown on bombing missions over Germany. This helped him to lend a realistic quality to Dr. Strangelove, especially in the scenes aboard The Leper Colony, the only B-52 bomber to reach its Russian target. He photographed a great deal of footage of the vast, trackless Arctic wastes for the scenes in which the plane relentlessly flies toward its objective.
   President Merkin Muffley (PETER SELLERS) meets with his military advisers in the War Room to discuss the crisis. The Pentagon’s War Room, writes ALEXANDER WALKER, “is one of the most functional and imaginative sets ever designed for a film. ” President Muffley sits at a circular conference table with his advisers, over which Taylor had placed a bank of lights which bathes the men in an eerie glow. At one end of the room is a huge map with winking lights that chart the progress of the bomber wing toward its Russian targets. In lighting the set,Walker comments, Kubrick and Taylor “achieve an effect that is spectral and nightmarish,” as befits Kubrick’s nightmare comedy about nuclear war.
   Kubrick favored source lighting for the film; that is, there is always an identifiable light source on the set, from which light would ordinarily come in real life, such as a window in the daytime or a lamp at night. Source lighting gives the film a stark, documentary-like flavor. Taylor recalls Kubrick prowling around the set, a cigar clamped in his mouth, checking out every detail of the set and lighting. Journalist Lyn Tornabene, who visited the set, observes: “This overwhelming omnipresence of the director had a strange effect on the camera crew. Awestruck and respectful, they would frequently stand off and watch him rechecking details of their work. ” There was loyalty on the set, she adds, but there were no humorous pranks. As a matter of fact, Taylor felt that in general, Kubrick lacked a sense of humor while he was working. When “Mr. K. ” smiled, it was usually at the completion of a difficult scene. “For instance,” Tornabene writes, “interior shots of his killer plane . . . were done in an area about the size of a packed linen closet. When he had finished a take of the plane being struck by a defensive missile, and accomplished rocking that linen closet and filling it with smoke and debris, he laughed in delight,” and so did Taylor and his camera crew.
   Elaine Dundy, a journalist who also was on the set of Strangelove, noted that Kubrick was brisk in giving orders to the crew. She told this writer that she recorded in her article about the film that, when Kubrick was lining up a shot and Taylor was inadvertently in his line of vision, he snapped, “‘Get out of the way, Gil!”When Kubrick read the transcript of the article prior to publication, he requested that she drop that incident from her piece, because Kubrick feared that otherwise no cameraman would subsequently be willing to work for him. So she altered her remarks as follows in the published version of the article:“‘Get out of the way,’ he will say casually and inoffensively to anyone who is in it. ”
   In any event,Taylor’s superb cinematography was much praised when the film opened, and Kubrick invited him back to do some shots on 2001 after cinematographer GEOFFREY UNSWORTH had moved on to another project. Taylor served as director of photography on several important films, including The Bedford Incident (1965), which was the first directorial effort of JAMES B. HARRIS, who had acted as coproducer on Kubrick’s early films; Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972); and George Lucas’s Star Wars (1977). Taylor’s last major film was the thriller The Bedroom Window (1986).
   ■ Dundy, Elaine,“Stanley Kubrick and Dr. Strangelove,” in Stanley Kubrick: Interviews, ed. Gene Phillips (Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2001), pp. 9+;
   ■ Tornabene, Lyn, “The Bomb and Stanley Kubrick,” Cosmopolitan, November 1963;
   ■ Walker, Alexander, Stanley Kubrick, Director, rev. ed. (New York: Da Capo, 1999).

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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