Robby Müller, the Dutch cinematographer who shot such modern classics as Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas (1984), Lars Von Trier’s Dancer In The Dark (1996), and a number of films by indie stalwart Jim Jarmusch, has died. As The Guardian reports, Müller died at home in Amsterdam after a long illness. He was 78.
Born on the Caribbean island of Curaçao—then a Dutch colony—in 1940, Müller studied at the Netherlands Film Academy before being apprenticed to cinematographer Gerard Vandenberg. Soon after, he began working independently on short films, which is where he first met a student at the Munich Film School named Wim Wenders. The two would go on to make 10 films together, including The American Friend (1977) and the Palme d’Or-winning Paris, Texas (1984).
Those films led to offers for Müller to work with a variety of international film directors, like Alex Cox (Repo Man, 1984), William Friedkin (To Live And Die In L.A., 1985), Barbet Schroeder (Barfly, 1987), and Peter Bogdanovich (Saint Jack, 1979; They All Laughed, 1981). Aside from Wenders, his most lasting collaboration was with Jim Jarmusch, for whom Müller shot Mystery Train (1989), Dead Man (1995), Ghost Dog: Way Of The Samurai (1999), and a segment of Coffee And Cigarettes (2003). Over the course of his career, Müller became known for his preference for static wide and medium shots over close-ups and rapid-fire editing. He also preferred an immediate, hand-held shooting style, which led to collaborations with Dogme 95 co-creator Lars von Trier on Breaking The Waves (1996) and Dancer In The Dark (2000), the latter of which also won a Palme d’Or.
Müller’s final feature film as a cinematographer was Michael Winterbottom’s 2002 Factory Records biopic 24 Hour Party People, although he shot a few short films after that—including an installation piece by Steve McQueen, who would go on to direct 12 Years A Slave and the upcoming Widows. In 2016, he was the subject of an exhibition at the EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam called “Master Of Light,” a rare honor for a cinematographer. Müller is survived by his wife Andrea, a photo editor, and his son Jim.
Jarmusch paid tribute to Müller on Twitter yesterday morning, and Wenders in an open letter published by The Hollywood Reporter earlier today. You can read both of those below.
FOR ROBBY MULLER 4/4/1940 – 7/3/2018
It’s pretty much 50 years ago that we met each other. You were assistant to the legendary Dutch D.o.P. Gerard Vandenberg and I was still a film student. I had the good fortune to play a small part in the movie you were shooting in Munich: “Love and so forth.” I was very impressed by this super-cool guy who could pull focus with one hand and roll a cigarette in the other. Soon afterwards, we made our first short film together: Alabama. That was a long time ago…
Through your work, you pushed the boundaries of the craft and art of cinematography, both as operator and through your innovative lighting style as Director of Photography. Like no other, you were able to seize moods and to describe situations in your imagery that revealed more about the characters than long dialogues or dramaturgical structures ever could. You knew how to create a distinctive atmosphere for each and every film, in which the respective actors were, in the truest sense of the phrase, “in good hands.” For a handful of filmmakers, among whom I was one, you were their most important companion, like Hans W., Jim, Lars, Steve. And you were a role model for a whole generation of young directors of photography.
I miss you very much.
You are dearly missed by many.