“A cinematographer is a visual psychiatrist, moving an audience…making them think the way you want them to think, painting pictures in the dark” – Gordon Willis
A cinematographer’s role in manipulating the mind of the audience cannot be undermined. Reflecting the attitude of a character, the rising tension of an anxious situation, or the serene quietude of a vast landscape, it has the power to transport the audience as cinema’s simplest form of communication.
The rise of new technologies has meant that cinematographers have more toys to play with, flying across a pleasant vista, or dodging through tight corridors can create scenes that the late Gordon Willis or Vittorio Storaro could only dream of. This comes with its own challenges, however, as sometimes the more widgets and tools you’re given, the more confused the image can become. Often the very best cinematographers are those with a nuanced hand, knowing when to close in with a tight personal shot, or sit back and let the scene flood over the viewer.
The late Dutch cinematographer Robby Müller is a master of cinematic patience, working consistently with filmmakers Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch to craft scenes so rich in visual imagery that they stand as vignettes in and of themselves.
Let’s take a look at ten of his most perfectly shot scenes…
The 10 best Robby Müller scenes:
10. 24 Hour Party People (Michael Winterbottom – 2002)
Though Müller may be better known for his work with German director Wim Wenders and the American eccentric Jim Jarmusch, the final years of his career were dotted with various international credits.
Michael Winterbottom’s 2002 comedy about the creation of factory records is just one of these ventures, as Müller lent a hand in one of his final DP roles. The Dutch cinematographer does well to reflect the film’s rough, DIY edges with a shaky documentary shooting style that would reflect the style of his early films.
One particularly memorable scene occurs at the film’s opening, where comedy great Steve Coogan hand glides over the Pennines whilst the scene, and Coogan’s terrifically dry dialogue is captured by Müller.
9. Kings of the Road (Wim Wenders – 1976)
Among one of the first of Wim Wenders’ German feature films, Kings of the Road follows Bruno and Robert, a travelling projector mechanic and a depressed young man, who decide to travel together.
A filmmaker who had a fierce fascination with physical landscapes and the movement of the open road, Kings of the Road was the last of Wenders’ unofficially titled ‘Road Trilogy’. To appropriately capture this, the monochrome film was captured with long takes and little dialogue to allow for the landscape itself to seep through the celluloid. The following scene well highlights this, as well as the stylish visual character that Müller’s deft touch provides.
8. Alice in the Cities (Wim Wenders – 1974)
From the third in the trilogy to the second, Alice in the Cities tells the story of a German journalist who upon befriending a young woman, is saddled with her nine-year-old daughter, Alice.
Like Kings of the Road, Alice in the Cities captures a changing world in rich monochrome, and in the scrolling scene of the car journey below, we can bear witness to a scrolling, dynamic society seen through the eyes of a young girl. It’s a strangely powerful scene as Alice wondrously ponders and absorbs the outer world beyond the car, and highlights Müller’s ability to invite you to inquire about each vignette he presents.
7. The American Friend (Wim Wenders – 1977)
Following Kings of the Road, Wenders ventured internationally, casting Dennis Hopper and Bruno Ganz in his crime thriller The American Friend, a neo-noir following an art forger and the terminally ill man he convinces to become a hitman.
Away from a black and white aesthetic, Robby Müller utilises the light, creating stylistic exaggerations of otherwise naturalistic scenes. Road tunnels glow a mighty turquoise, and the red beams of headlights illuminate the car an ethereal green. Outdoors, Müller captures the vibrant, empty playground of the countryside, and in one particular scene in which a car explodes at the beach, he catches the soft gradient of the sky against the violent red of the flames.
6. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (Jim Jarmusch – 1999)
Largely working with Wim Wenders at the start of his career, he later turned to American filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and collaborated with him on five feature film projects.
Their penultimate film together, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, is an outlandish action thriller, tracking Forest Whitaker as ‘Ghost Dog’, a Mafia hitman who models himself on the samurai ways of old. Well-known for his ability to capture travel and transition, Robby Müller again utilises light and movement to document Ghost Dogs’ meditative journey through the night-time streets of New Jersey, doing so with a slow, hypnotic visual energy.
5. Breaking the Waves (Lars Von Trier – 1996)
Müller’s first of two films with the controversial Danish director was highly influenced by the ‘Dogme 95’ movement that himself and fellow director Thomas Vinterberg had pioneered in the 1990s, characterised by an organic visual and thematic style.
Breaking the Waves was Von Trier’s first film outside of the strict rules of the dogma, following a woman whose husband is paralysed after an accident at work, and the consequences when the husband urges her to sleep with another man instead. It’s a provocative and powerful piece of filmmaking, told with a restless handheld style that gives the film an authentic intimacy, imitating that of raw home video. The whole film is captured beautifully, though it is the striking epilogue from Müller that truly leaves the mouth agape.
4. Mystery Train (Jim Jarmusch – 1989)
The nostalgic Mystery Train is Jim Jarmusch’s first film in colour, entwining three interconnecting stories linked by a Memphis hotel and the international spirit of Elvis Presley.
Recoupling Robby Müller with his inextricable link to travel and the open road, Jarmusch explores the different perspectives of the same city, approaching each one with the context of a different culture and point of view. Once again utilising long-takes and an intuitive use of light and colour, Müller’s depiction of Memphis is truly beautiful. Particularly in the train journey of the opening scene, we can see just why, presenting Memphis as a preview screen of what the two tourists can come to expect.
3. Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch – 1995)
Jarmusch’s wacky return to monochrome encased a psychedelic neo-western following a fugitive escaping an account of murder who stumbles across an aboriginal American named Nobody who prepares him for a journey into the spirit world.
Slow and puzzling, this revisionist western gives a hallucinatory atmosphere to the vast Western landscape with great help from cinematographer Robby Müller. Seemingly on horseback, Müller follows the aboriginal sage ‘Nobody’ (Gary Farmer), and protagonist William Blake (Johnny Depp) through the empty woods, transitioning to flashbacks using Western-inspired vignette borders. It creates a wondrous, dreamlike reality.
2. Repo Man (Alex Cox – 1984)
This classic 1980s cult sci-fi comedy from Alex Cox, puts Robby Müller in somewhat unfamiliar territory, capturing the story of a young teenager recruited to find a Chevrolet with a supernatural secret that’s wanted for a large bounty,
Müller’s depiction of LA is authentic and grungy, perfectly housing Cox’s bizarre sci-fi that grounds itself in an American reality thanks to terrific performances from Emilio Estevez and the late Harry Dean Stanton. In the film’s iconic final sequence, the mythical car takes flight in dull neon green accompanied by a psychedelic soundtrack, transporting Estevez and the audience across the hectic vista of Los Angeles before taking a flight to outer space. Taking Müller’s knack for transportation sequences to the sky, this is an inspiring sequence.
1. Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders – 1984)
Responsible for possibly cinema’s greatest ever ending, Wim Wenders and particularly the cinematography from Robby Müller bring the heart-wrenching love story of Paris, Texas to life.
A road movie with a difference, Harry Dean Stanton stars as Travis Henderson, an aimless drifter who after being missing for four years, wanders out from the desert to reconnect with his lost family. Once again, long takes and a striking use of colour typify Müller’s cinematic touch, reflecting the empty loneliness of the protagonist, using night-time neon to reflect a painful nostalgia. Though it is the film’s final sequence, a visual representation of this separation and lost-love, in which Travis and his estranged wife connect through one-way glass that really steals the show.