In late 1961, Taylor teamed with American director Richard Lester on his first feature, It’s Trad, Dad! (1962), a humorous, slightly surreal youth film about the interest in Dixieland jazz that was sweeping England at the time. Patterned after 1950s American rock ’n’ roll movies, Trad features misunderstood teens, stuffy adults and plenty of musical sequences. “Dick’s enthusiasm for music and filmmaking blended together in mad unison appealed to my mental and physical state at the time,” Taylor says, noting that Trad became a sort of template for one of his most popular films, A Hard Day’s Night. “In 1964, when The Beatles came of age, I was given a poor script by Dick, who said we basically had to make it up as we went along. The only thing set was the music; the rest we had to invent daily!”

This narrative shortcoming explains the film’s disjointed structure, but it was Lester and Taylor’s decision to shoot in documentary-style fashion at live locations that helps keep A Hard Day’s Night energetic and fresh. The Fab Four were hardly acting, and the world surrounding them gives the “day in the life” snapshot of the band an air of authenticity that was rare in its day. This mood is set with the opening credits, as John, Paul, George and Ringo are chased through the Crowcrombe train station by a frantic pack of female fans afflicted with Beatlemania. The action was captured with multiple cameras, each fitted with a 10:1 zoom, which allowed Taylor’s crack operating team to cover the scene much like a sporting event. “There was very little lighting of any sort, as the authorities would not allow us to control the station in any way,” he remembers. “We also had a very limited budget and couldn’t afford generators, so any fill was coming from a small, handheld, battery-powered lamp. They wouldn’t have let us bring generators or cables onto the platform anyway.”

Taylor continually turned adversity into advantage on the show. “We took a real train journey with little or no extra lighting, just a little 4K generator to power some lamps in the ceiling, tracking down the corridors on roller skates and such. The raw quality of the shoot was there onscreen, and Dick was amazed at our rushes.”

The TV studio-set performance sequences — filmed at Shepperton — gave Taylor a chance to capitalize on his penchant for high-contrast black-and-white, in part to make up for the shabby stages he was forced to use. “The white backings there were terrible, just filthy,” he recalls. “The only solution was to just fill them with light to kill the dirt and then overexpose the hot areas by several stops. It they were an f/16, I’d shoot the boys at an f/5.6. We were also shooting directly into 10K lamps behind them, using the intense light to explode the image and make things as exciting as they could be.”

Though many cinematographers at the time favored prime lenses over zooms, the utility of zooms assured that they would always have a place in Taylor’s kit. “I love 10:1 zooms because I can find just the right angle I want, and I can even change that angle, especially while doing tracking shots. I never used a fixed lens for that because I wanted the flexibility to alter my angle to follow the performance or the composition. Of course, that meant having another assistant, but it worked for me!

“Although American cinematographers used Bausch & Lomb Baltar lenses at the time, I always favored Cookes,” he adds. “They had a very particular, soft look that I found much more pleasing. One could use filtration on the Baltars, but it was never the same.”

Also released in 1964 was a comedy of an altogether different stripe: Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Stanley Kubrick’s grim satire of Cold War madness, which is distinguished in part by Taylor’s graphic, high-contrast illumination. “Strangelove was at the time a unique experience because the lighting was to be incorporated in the sets, with little or no other light used,” says the cinematographer. This strategy is exemplified by the elaborate scenes set in the War Room, an iconic command-and-control center where American president Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) and his advisers attempt to manage a nuclear crisis. Designed by Ken Adam, the War Room set is anchored by a gleaming, black Formica floor and a 22'-wide circular table lit by a halo-like ring of white-hot overhead fluorescent fixtures. “Lighting that set was sheer magic, and I don’t quite know how I got away with it all,” Taylor says. “Much of it was the same formula based on the overheads as fill and blasting in the key on faces from the side.”

During prep, Taylor shot the extensive aerial footage needed for rear-projection plates used in sequences set aboard a wayward B-52. “Stanley hated being airborne,” Taylor told American Cinematographer in October 1999, “so I did about 28,000 miles in a B-17 Flying Fortress, shooting aerial material. I remember the night we took off; it was pitch black, and we were going up to Iceland and then Greenland. It was lightly snowing at the airport, and suddenly someone said, ‘Stanley’s here.’ I thought, ‘Christ, not now!’ He came aboard the plane and told my mechanic, ‘The camera mountings are too tight.’ I’d done a lot of work of that sort and wanted those mountings to be absolutely solid. When Stanley began his critique, I said to the pilot, ‘Can you start up one engine?’ He fired it up, and Stanley literally flew off the plane. As soon as he was out the door, I had them tighten those bolts right up again.”

Often along for the ride was Taylor’s wife, Diane, who kept track of the footage, much of which was shot on infrared stock. “We used infrared for the plates behind Major Kong as he rides the bomb down to the target at the end,” says the cinematographer. “It would have been impossible otherwise.”

The film’s documentary-style combat footage — depicting U.S. Army forces storming the fortified Burpelson Air Force Base to capture deranged Gen. Jack T. Ripper — was largely shot by Taylor and Kubrick. “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. We’ll film it just like combat cameramen.’” To give the scenes an extra-gritty feel, Taylor ordered “a lot of special film stock that was not fully panchromatic and was originally used by the military for copying documents. It was very contrasty, and I only later found out how slow it was — the specs I’d been given were completely wrong! But the scene looks great.”

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© 2006 American Cinematographer.