Cinematographer. Nationality: Dutch. Born: Robert Müller in Curacao, Dutch West Indies, 4 April 1940; moved to Amsterdam, Holland, 1953. Career: 1964—assistant to cameraman Gerard Vandenberg in the Nederlandse Filmacademie, Amsterdam; moved to Germany where began collaboration with Wim Wenders. Address: c/o Smith Gosnell Nicholson & Associates, Pacific Palisades, CA, U.S.A.
Films as Cinematographer:
Megapolis I (de la Parra) (+ ro); Vogel (Bird) (Sebestik)
De Lengte van een Ster (The Length of a Star) (van Doorn) (co)
Eiland (Island) (Terpstra) (co)
Bacher (Tholen); Norwegian Wood (Meter); Toets (Touch) (Tholen) (co)
Objectief gezien (Objective Seen) (van Doorn); Don't Miss, Miss Pizz (Kothuys); Der Fall Lena Christ(Geissendörfer—for TV)
She Is Like a Rainbow (Kothuys) (co); Jonathan (Geis-sendörfer); Alabama: 2000 Light Years (Wenders) (co)
Frankenstein cum Cannabis (Paape) (co); Eine Rose für Jane(Geissendörfer—for TV); Pakbo (Koch—for TV)
Het bezoek (The Visit) (van de Staak); Summer in the City(Wenders); Carlos (Geissendörfer—for TV)
Can (Przygodda) (co); Die Scharlachrote Buchstabe (Wenders);Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter (Wenders)
Die Reise nach Wien (Reitz); Jonathan (Geissendörfer)
Alice in den Städten (Alice in the Cities) (Wenders) (co); Ein bisschen Liebe (von Furstenberg); Falsche Bewegung (The Wrong Move) (Wenders)
Nathalie (von Weitershausen); Im Lauf der Zeit (Wenders) (co)
Es herrscht Ruhe im Land (Lilienthal) (co); Die Wildente(Geissendörfer); Im Lauf der Zeit (Kings of the Road) (Wenders)
Der amerikanische Freund (The American Friend) (Wenders);Avatar, the Return of the Wolf (Zeillemaker); Die linkshändige Frau (The Left-handed Woman) (Handke)
Mysteries (de Lussanet); Die gläserne Zelle (Geissendörfer)
Opname (In for Treatment) (van Zuylen and Kok); Saint Jack(Bogdanovich)
Honeysuckle Rose (On the Road Again) (Schatzberg)
They All Laughed (Bogdanovich); Die Gläserne Zelle (The Glass Cell) (Geissendörfer)
Een zwoele zomeravond (A Sultry Summer Evening) (Weisz and Strooker)
Les Îles (Azimi) (co); Un Dimanche de flics (Vianey); Les Tricheurs (Schroeder) (+ ro); Klassenfeind (Stein)
Repo Man (Cox); Paris, Texas (Wenders); Body Rock (Epstein); Der Klassenfeind (Class Enemy) (Stein); Finnegan Begin Again (Joan Micklin Silver—for TV)
The Longshot (Bartel); To Live and Die in L.A. (Friedkin)
Down by Law (Jarmusch)
Barfly (Schroeder); The Believers (Schlesinger)
Il piccolo diavolo (The Little Devil) (Benigni)
Coffee and Cigarettes II (Jarmusch—short); Mystery Train (Jarmusch); Aufzeichnungen zu Kleidern und Städten(Wenders) (co)
A Notebook on Cities and Clothes (Wenders—doc) (co); Bis ans Ende der Welt (Until the End of the World; Jusqu'au bout du monde) (Wenders)
Mad Dog and Glory (McNaughton)
Dead Man (Jarmusch); Par-delà les nuages (Beyond the Clouds) (Wenders)
Breaking the Waves (von Trier)
The Tango Lesson (Potter)
Shattered Image (Ruiz)
Buena Vista Social Club (Wenders); Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (Jarmusch)
Dancer in the Dark
Film as Actor:
Tricheurs (Youthful Sinners) (Schroeder)
Motion and Emotion (Joyce)
De Domeinen Ditvoorst (The Ditvoorst Domains) (Hoffman)
Foot on the Moon (Pijman)
By MÜLLER: articles—
Skrien (Amsterdam), Winter 1986–87.
Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 423, September 1989.
On MÜLLER: articles—
American Cinematographer (Hollywood), vol. 66, no. 2, February 1985.
American Film (Washington, D.C.), vol. 13, no. 3, December 1987.
Hollywood Reporter, vol. 306, no. 31, 7 March 1989.
Film Comment (New York), vol. 25, no. 5, September/October 1989.
Film Dope (Nottingham), March 1991.
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Described by Cinema Today—perhaps a little fancifully—as "the greatest Dutchman with light since Vermeer," Robby Müller has worked on both sides of the Atlantic, photographing movies for directors with widely varying visions. He first sprung to prominence as Wim Wenders's camera magician, as the lensman behind such classics of the New German Cinema as Kings of the Road, The American Friend, and Alice in the Cities. Not all of Müller and Wenders's collaborations have had happy results: Until the End of the World, for instance, is an unfocused epic shot in more than a dozen countries. Nonetheless, Müller is arguably as important to the filmmaker as Nykvist was to Bergman.
By complete contrast to his "road" movies with Wenders, Müller has also shot intimate pictures, firmly rooted to place: there was his photography of Barfly for Barbet Schroeder, where he caught the bleary-eyed, slightly surreal Bukowski underground of late-night drinking dens, of alcoholic brawls and love affairs. Then there was his work on Jarmusch's Down by Law, in moody black and white, and his superb evocation of the sprawling, seething city in Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A. Perhaps his most celebrated picture, again with Wenders, is Paris, Texas. Here, he depicts several different sides of American culture and myth: first, there is Ford's legendary West, familiar from The Searchers, a rugged terrain of deserts, eagles, and mountains; next, there are the antiseptic Californian suburbs, the haunt of affluent, middle-class families; and, finally, there are the grim, impersonal facades of Houston, a businessman's city whose skyscrapers, endless towers of glass and steel, are the antithesis of the great outdoors shown at the outset.
In the same year, 1984, he helped English director Alex Cox make a remarkably assured debut with the cultish Repo Man, which takes the same elements used elegiacally for Wenders on Paris, Texas—the long roads, sand, sky, cars—and recasts them in a comic vein. Müller has distinct ideas on how to light for laughs and how to set the visual tone for heavier drama. As he told the Hollywood Reporter, "Filming a comedy is different from (shooting) a dramatic film with documentary elements that are sometimes dark. Comedy needs another type of lighting, more light, more clarity."
Unlike Michael Ballhaus, another European cinematographer to carve out a substantial niche in 1980s Hollywood, Müller has not worked on blockbusters or overtly mainstream movies. He has tended to choose offbeat projects with innovative directors who will allow him the license to experiment: Jim Jarmusch, Joan Micklin Silver, Peter Bogdanovich, and Paul Bartel are names which spring to mind. Like one of those endlessly peripatetic characters with which Wenders fills his movies, Müller likes to travel, to change directions, to push back boundaries. Apart from America, Germany, and his native Holland, he has worked in the Far East, on Bogdanovich's underrated Saint Jack, and in Italy. (Wenders, of course, has dragged him all over the globe.)
Nevertheless, despite his versatility, Robby Müller is not in the top rank of cinematographers working today. He has not shot a great, stylized studio-based picture along the lines of a Dick Tracy (a triumph for the camera operator if not for the director) or anything of the grandeur of 1900 or The Last Emperor. Paris, Texas apart, there are few of his films that are uniquely, distinctly his, and that would have been beyond the ken of any other cinematographer. Perhaps Müller does not yet match up to the standards set by Gordon Willis or Vittorio Storaro, those two acknowledged "masters of light." Still, Müller is an endlessly resourceful lensman whose oeuvre marks a consistently fascinating clash between European and Hollywood aesthetics. In his European movies of the 1970s, particularly projects such as The American Friend, the Hollywood influence is manifest. By contrast, in his American pictures—particularly Barfly and his work with Jarmusch—he seems to strive for a looser, more fluid "European" feel. Storaro may have observed that "the emphasis in the average Hollywood film is on acting and story structure, and cinematographers are confined to recording performances." One thing is for sure, however: on whichever side of the Atlantic Müller chooses to work, he will never be confined merely to recording performance.
—Geoffrey Macnab, updated by Rob Edelman