Posted on Tuesday, November 5th, 2019 by Bryan Young
(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films and television properties that inspired George Lucas’s iconic universe. In this edition: The documentary film stylings of cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, including Dr. Strangelove, A Hard Day’s Night, and The Omen.)
George Lucas is a big fan of documentary filmmaking. It’s really how he’s approached film from the beginning and it’s no surprise. From some of his earliest film credits, Lucas proved adept at documentary work. He filmed and directed the behind-the-scenes short Filmmaker on the set of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rain People. After that, he was a camera operator on the seminal documentary film by the Maysles Brothers, Gimme Shelter. Lucas was there, rolling film at the Altamont Speedway where a deadly altercation broke out in front of the Rolling Stones as they performed. Lucas brought this documentary style to his next two feature films, THX-1138 and American Graffiti and sought to do the same for Star Wars.
In order to accomplish this, Lucas tried to hire a cinematographer that would be able to capture both the documentary feeling he was hoping for and the scope of visual effects he was planning. His first choice was Geoffrey Unsworth, who had previously filmed Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unsworth dropped out, though, opting instead to lens A Bridge Too Far (and then follow that up immediately with Richard Donner’s Superman.) This left Lucas to find a last minute replacement in Gilbert Taylor.