In my post on photographers as filmmakers, numerous folks mentioned Wim Wenders. Someone else mentioned the importance of cinematographers. This got me to thinking about Wender’s cinematographer, Robby Müller. The two have worked together since 1969. Along with his outstanding work with Wenders, Müller has put unforgettable images for several great directors. I’m particularly fond of the images he has produced with Jim Jarmusch:
Down by Law
In a 1999 interview with The Gaurdian, Jarmusch was asked about working with Müller:
I loved Robby Mueller’s work and I asked Wim Wenders in 1980 how I might meet him. I was going to the Rotterdam Film Festival to show my first film, Permanent Vacation, and at that time in Rotterdam the people who visited the festival stayed on a boat that was harboured there, it had a bar in it, and Wim said, “Just go on the boat and in the bar next to the peanut machine, Robby Mueller will be sitting there.”
So I went to Rotterdam, I went on the boat, I went in the bar, and next to the peanut machine Robby Mueller was sitting there. (Laughter) Seriously. So I sat down next to him and started talking to him. And we hung out quite a bit at the festival and he saw my first film, and he said to me eventually, “If you ever want to work together man, let me know.” That was a big thing for me. I made my next film Stranger Than Paradise with my friend Tom DiCillo, because Tom was working then as a director of photography, but he really wasn’t interested in shooting films, so when I wrote Down By Law, I immediately called Robby Mueller.
The beautiful thing about Robby is that he starts the process by talking to you about what the film means, what the story is about, what the characters are about. He starts from the inside out, which is really, really such a great way. I’ve learned that you find the look of the film later after you’ve found the essence of the film, what its atmosphere is, what it’s about and then you look at locations together, you start talking about light and colour, about what film material to use and the general look of the film, and we’ve worked together a lot now, so we don’t have to discuss as many things as other people might because we understand each other.
He considers himself to be an artisan in a way. I remember, especially in Dead Man, the crew and I were joking a lot by saying, “He’s Robby Mueller, but don’t tell him that!” He considers he has a lens, he has film material and he has light. Sometimes crew members would mention some modern piece of equipment, “We could do that shot with a lumacrane,” and Robbie would say, “What is a lumacrane?” I think he’s like a Dutch interior painter, like Vermeer or de Hoeck, who was born in the wrong century.