Archive for Gilbert Taylor

Candlelight and Shadowplay

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2009 by dcairns

Feel like I’m treading on Shahn’s territory here:


But all this is just to prove the point that Hitchcock’s NUMBER 17 is a very lovely film. Regular cinematographer John Cox outdoes himself with expressionist jangles of blackness and whiteness, exploiting the surprising shapes of Wilfred Arnold’s impressive set.



I’d also like to gently scold Paul Merton, whose TV show Paul Merton Looks at Hitchcocksuggested that the film was stagey and uninteresting, apart from the use of model shots for the climax.  A preponderance of interiors does not make a film stagey, and certainly not when it crackles with kinetic energy like this one. Maybe he’s referring to some of the acting (Leon M. Lion, stand up. What’s that? You ARE standing up? Oh, excuse me) but if so he’s muddled the message. Paul Merton Fails to Look at Hitchcock.


But I’m grateful to that show for bringing on nine-million-year-old British cameraman Gilbert Taylor to talk about working on the film as a clapper loader: how he was almost decapitated by a low bridge when filming atop a moving train, which would have deprived us of the future cinematographer of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT*, REPULSION and STAR WARS (where he displeased George Lucas by routinely referring to Chewbacca as “the dog”); and how members of the camera crew would torment each other by purposefully breaking wind within the sweltering confines of the soundproof camera booth. Whenever you see the camera wobble in an early ’30s film, just think of that, have sympathy, and provide a descriptive sound effect.


*Taylor was greatly disturbed by the frenzy of Beatlemania and declined to work on the follow-ip film, HELP! Such was the high-pitched screaming of fans that one member of the camera department reportedly lost a tooth. I know, that makes no sense, but there it is.

Biting the hand

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 14, 2008 by dcairns

One of the few things Sergio Leone didn’t pinch from Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO when he unofficially remade it as A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, was this cheeky moment:


As man-with-no-name wandering ronin Toshiro Mifune slouches up the main street of the film’s no-horse town, an intent dog hurries past, jaws clamped jealously down on a tasty morsel salvaged from some recent street-fight.

I guess cowboy films weren’t using imagery like this in the early sixties, plus in a genre dominated by gunplay rather than swordplay, the lopped limb would raise unanswerable questions. Too bad.

fists in the pocket

But Italy hadn’t finished with the right-handed dog. He makes another appearance in scene one of Lucio Fulci’s nauseatingly effective NEW YORK RIPPER, emerging from a bush to startle his walker with a tidbit retrieved from the undergrowth.

NYR is indeed an extremely offensive film, with the typical giallo misanthropy and misogyny turned up to eleven. When it was submitted to the British Board of Film Classification (not Censorship, no no!), director James Ferman not only banned it outright, he personally escorted the print back to the airport to make sure it left the country without corrupting and depraving anybody en route.

While director Lucio Fulci’s previous employment as a DOCTOR may explain his extremely high tolerance for scenes of gore and suffering, it does make me worry slightly for his patients. They’d be better off with seeing nice Dr. Miller down the corridor.

The dog wasn’t through yet. He pads his way out of a bank in David Lynch’s WILD AT HEART, another gory forelimb clenched triumphantly in his canines, pay-off to a gruesome and somewhat dislikeable joke that kind of mars the film, arguably Lynch’s most cynical and unpleasant. (Lynch, as always, finds real sympathy for his protagonists, but it’s offset by a callous treatment of the film’s little people, of which the dog incident is a strong example.) It IS, however, proof that Lynch does watch movies and draw inspiration from them. It’s easy to see the director as a complete original, or somebody more influenced by the other arts than by film history, which may be somewhat true, but he also picks up moments from a wide range of movies and recycles them in an interesting way. I was struck by a moment in Michael Tolkin’s THE NEW AGE where Peter Weller meets a strange monk-like man in black at a party. The basics of the scene undeniably form the basis for Robert Blake’s terrifying entrance into LOST HIGHWAY.

Good Witch

Taking the mutt full circle, Philip Kaufman quotes the Kurosawa scene directly as part of a karaoke scene in RISING SUN, based on Michael Crichton’s anti-Japanese crime thriller. The fact that karaoke machines don’t usually screen extracts from classic Japanese cinema tells you everything you need to know about the accuracy of this strident warning about the dangers of Japanese cultural influence. My friend Kiyo expressed an interest in the film at the time saying that he wondered if Sean Connery’s character would speak Japanese with an Osaka accent, “Because people in Osaka shpeak like thish.” But when he saw it, his only reaction was, “Sean Connery’s Japanese fucking crap!”

Rising Sean

It’s tempting to come up with more roles for man’s right-hand dog. At the start of Polanski’s MACBETH, the three witches bury a severed arm on a beach. I’d like to think our doggy pal (I’m going to name him MURDO) is lurking just outside the frame of Gilbert Taylor’s Panavision lens, waiting to trot over and dig up his evening’s meal.