Master of Light – Robby Müller
In the summer of 2016 EYE presented a major exhibition devoted to the Netherlands’ most famous director of photography, Robby Müller. Björk dancing in a factory, Johnny Depp floating seawards in a canoe, and Nastassja Kinski wearing a bright-red top: cameraman Robby Müller is responsible for these and countless other memorable film moments from modern classics like Breaking the Waves (1996), Dancer in the Dark (2000), Dead Man (1995), Down by Law (1986), Barfly (1987), 24 Hour Party People (2002) and Paris, Texas (1984). Large video projections highlighted the visual ingenuity and emotional complexity of Müller’s images in the exhibition, which also featured items from his private archive. Also included were interviews with Wim Wenders, Lars von Trier and Jim Jarmusch, who discussed their collaboration with Müller.
Wim Wenders: “He’s a great painter, one of the Dutch Masters, a traveler from the great era of painting across the age of film and right into the digital kingdom. A pioneer.”
Jim Jarmusch: “I learnt so much from this man; about filmmaking; about a lot of things in life in general; and about light and about recording things and about capturing things in the moment and about trusting instinct.”
Hoyte van Hoytema (cameraman on Let the Right One In (2008), Spectre (2015) and Interstellar (2014)): “Robby Müller has no recognizable style, yet you still sense his indefinable flair, a sort of melancholy or nostalgia. Think of cameramen as songwriters. You recognize a singer straight away, but not a songwriter.”
Robby Müller (Willemstad, Curaçao, 1940) is internationally celebrated for his pioneering camerawork for such directors as Wim Wenders, Lars von Trier and Jim Jarmusch. He has made a significant contribution to the success of a whole generation of independent film auteurs who emerged in the world of auteur cinema from the 1970s onwards.
More than anybody else, Müller succeeds in uniting narrative, atmosphere and image into a single entity. A virtuoso in his treatment of light and shade, he prefers to use natural lighting in his characteristic wide shots and long takes. However, Müller never shoots a beautiful image as an end in itself. Rather, for him the story and look of a film must complement each other.
Müller has always embraced technological advancements and likes to explore new possibilities. Examples of this are his ‘handheld’ technique in Breaking the Waves (1996), his deployment of video in 24 Hour Party People (2002), and his use of 100 cameras in Dancer in the Dark (2000). A frequent improviser, he remains receptive to the unexpected and to chance events while filming.
In Hollywood Robby Müller was presented with the International Award from The American Society of Cinematographers.
about the exhibition
EYE presented the first large exhibition devoted to the work of this exceptional cameraman and ‘image maker’. Wim Wenders, Lars von Trier and Jim Jarmusch rank among the directors with whom Robby Müller has closely worked. EYE has asked them to express their vision on the remarkable qualities of Robby Müller, and to select what for them are typical Müller scenes. Large projections inside a spatial installation featured key fragments from the films shot by Müller with various directors. For the exhibition, EYE is also drawing on Müller’s private archive, consisting of dozens of Video8, Hi8 and DV tapes, in which he chronicles his life in the manner of a diary. Illuminating life on sets and location shoots, they reveal how Müller sees the world through his camera.
Attention: this exhibition was on display from 4 June through 4 September 2016.
Müller’s private archive includes letters and notes from the directors he has worked with, original scenarios, set photos and lighting designs. Moreover, Müller has taken photographs all his life, and EYE is showing a remarkable selection of his Polaroid pictures, which also showcase the skill of this 'master of light'. In passing, the exhibition reveals the emergence of the remarkable auteur cinema of the 1970s, and its continuation in the 1980s and 90s.
Furthermore, Müller has worked with filmmakers and visual artists who only later acquired world fame, among them Steve McQueen, for whom he shot Carib’s Leap (2002). Material from these collaborative projects is also on display.
Accompanying the exhibition are two small publications, in a cardboard box, about Robby Müller’s polaroids: Interiors and Exteriors. With essays by Bianca Stigter, designed by Mevis & Van Deursen, published by EYE in collaboration with Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Cologne, and Annet Gelink Galerie, Amsterdam.
films, talks, events
EYE film theatres are also highlighting the films shot by Robby Müller with the ‘the big three’: Wenders, Von Trier and Jarmusch. The essence of his body of work lies in kinship: “I carefully chose who can be a kindred spirit”. Wenders was such a soulmate, and Müller shot almost all his films in the 1970s and ’80s. The early works by Wenders have recently been restored and are now being screened again in the Netherlands for the first time in years. A number of Müller’s lesser-known productions were also screened, among them Die linkshändige Frau (1978), Saint Jack (1979) and the short films that he shot in the Netherlands in the 1960s. Various screenings were introduced by staff who assisted on his films and by experts on his work.
From A to Z
filmFrans Weisz & Shireen Strooker, 1982
filmWim Wenders, 1974
filmPeter Handke, 1977
filmEdgar Reitz, 1973
filmJim Jarmusch, 1986
filmJim Jarmusch, 1999
filmWim Wenders, 1976
filmPaul de Lussanet, 1978
filmJim Jarmusch, 1989
filmWim Wenders, 1984
filmWim Wenders, 1977
filmWim Wenders, 1971
filmWim Wenders, 1991