Renowned Dutch cinematographer Robby Muller, who shot some of the best-known films of Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch and Lars Von Trier, died in Amsterdam on Wednesday. Muller was 78 and was suffering from vascular dementia. He is survived by his wife, Andrea.
Muller’s credits include some of German director Wim Wenders’s early masterworks, including the road trilogy comprising Alice in the Cities (1974), The Wrong Move (1975) and Kings of the Road (1976), American Friend (1977) and Paris, Texas (1984).
Muller’s first feature film in 1970 was also Wenders’s first: the black-and-white Summer in the City. Muller, who was born on April 4, 1940, in Curacao, moved to Amsterdam aged 13 and later studied at the Netherlands Film Academy. Apart from his fruitful collaboration with Wenders, which gave an early indication of his imaginative and highly mobile camerawork and use of colours and textures, Muller also worked on numerous arthouse and independent features. He shot Peter Bogdanovich’s Saint Jack (1979) and They All Laughed (1981) and William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in LA (1985).
For Alex Cox, Muller shot the cult science fiction satire Repo Man (1984), featuring Emilio Estevez as a repossession agent, extra-terrestrials, and a mysterious heat-generating device.
Muller also forged a professional association with American indie director Jim Jarmusch. They first worked together on Jarmusch’s celebrated third movie Down By Law (1986), centring on the escapades of three convicts. Muller also worked on Jarmusch’s Mystery Train (1989), Dead Man (1996), Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai (1989) and Coffee and Cigarettes (2003).
Alongside working with independent American directors, Muller continued to shooting for European arthouse filmmakers. Muller’s work on Lars von Trier’s groundbreaking tragedy Breaking the Waves (1996) is among his most celebrated.
“The superb cinematographer Robby Müller lit broad areas of space to facilitate freedom of movement on every location and set, and shot the action with handheld Super 35 mm cameras, lending rare visual dynamism to the CinemaScope screen,” David Sterrit noted in his essay for the Criterion Collection DVD.
For Barbet Schroeder’s Barfly (1987), a loose portrait of the American writer and poet Charles Bukowski, Muller and his crew created the Kino Flo light, which created soft, fluorescent tones ones and could be used to make interior scenes look vivid and interesting.
Muller’s final credit for a full-length feature was for Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People in 2002. The movie traces Manchester’s music scene between 1976 and 1992 with a focus on Factory Records flamboyant co-founder Tony Wilson. Muller’s ability to create a very real sense of the creative chaos that marked the times is in full evidence.
In a lengthy interview conducted with Danish director Bart van Broekhoven in 2007, Muller discussed his approach to cinematography, his love for monochrome and his embrace of the digital medium. In response to the question of whether he considered himself a co-author of the films he had shot, Muller said. “Yes, in a way. I was always very loyal to the story. I did not go for my own victory…Genuine honesty, that makes a huge contribution to being able to make the right choices. If you honestly think about what a scene needs and you have the option to do it in other ways – with a big spotlight through the trees, for example – but that is crazy, then you leave it that way. You do not have to choose for your own glory, you also have to count with which set you stand.”