Cinematographer Robby Müller, NSC, passes away

par Agnès Godard La Lettre AFC n°289

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Recognized for his work on films directed by Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch, and Lars von Trier, inter alia, in which the technical aspect was dissimulated behind the rhythm and grace of his camera movements and the expressive use he made of natural light and colour, Dutch cinematographer Robby Müller, NSC, passed away in Amsterdam on Tuesday, 3 July 2018, at the age of seventy-eight. Agnès Godard, AFC, who was his assistant on Paris, Texas, eulogizes below.

Robby has departed to a place of brighter light.

I spent an afternoon at his home in Amsterdam eight months ago. His bed faced a big canal and he would watch the light transform the magnificent vista of sky, houses, trees, bicyclists… totally Dutch.

I won’t show you the photos I took that afternoon. It’s better to look at the images he himself took. Images from his personal films and from production films. Or his hundreds of Polaroids that he had carefully organized. His images leave us speechless because they cut through time. There is nothing to say except that they say what has to be said.

On Paris, Texas, at the start of each day, everything seemed to have been prepared in advance, everything seemed easy. But, after some time, I came to realize that Robby was essentially guided by the location and lighting of that day’s shoot. He never hesitated to espouse the opposite of what had been scouted and planned. He experienced in the present moment what each moment had to offer him. He got to work with an ease that totally dissimulated the technical expertise required to transport what he had perceived onto the film, he was happy taking risks, and to have been the one chosen.
I have never forgotten how he would take hold of the camera, tame it, and film as though he were looking, a simple witness, always respectful of the point of view adopted. The camera would disappear into the images and in their evidence.

Nothing particular about his equipment except for the fork shaped mount with two rounded extremities that seemed to create a magic link between his eye, his arm, and his gaze. His eye was at his fingertips (or his camera, as you will). Not to forget the little ashtray glued onto the camera for his cigarettes, which he would roll with one hand and the bike bell he used to announce : “the gate is clear”.

Robby Müller's "fork-shaped" head handle - Photo by Agnès Godard
Robby Müller’s "fork-shaped" head handle
Photo by Agnès Godard

He often worked in very low-lighting conditions at night, and it wasn’t easy to focus the camera. But he believed in it, so we did, too. I never understood how he could obtain such structured images under such conditions.
He was a mix of poetic melancholy and rigid demandingness, but he never erred as to the alchemy between the two.

Video Introduction to the “Master of Light – Robby Müller” exposition dedicated to him at the EYE Filmmuseum, in Amsterdam in 2016.

Video in which Jan Jarmusch discusses his work with Robby Müller on Dead Man.

Robby Müller, "Paris, Texas", Yuma, Arizona, October 1983 - Photo Agnès Godard
Robby Müller, "Paris, Texas", Yuma, Arizona, October 1983
Photo Agnès Godard

Video interview with Robby Müller about Down by Law, by Jim Jarmusch.