Alec Soth's Archived Blog

October 10, 2006

Robby Müller

Filed under: filmmaking — alecsothblog @ 11:31 pm

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

Mystery Train

Dead Man

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.


  1. Dead Man rocks – not much better

    Comment by Bill Sullivan — October 11, 2006 @ 12:09 am

  2. Your words on film and B&W films of the 80ies reminds me a most recent one : “Les Amants Reguliers” directed by the brilliant Louis Garrel with the images of the not-less-brilliant cinematographer William LUBTCHANSKY. It is coming out in DVD at the beginning of november in France… you should have a look. Not have seen B&W films so powerful since Jarmush ones. You can download some still shots on

    Comment by Alexandre Guirkinger — October 11, 2006 @ 5:52 am

  3. Even after seeing Stranger Than Paradise, which I loved, Down by Law struck me as strongly as sa couple of my prior favorites, The Bicycle Thief and Nights of Cabiria. I’m sure the cinematography made a large part of the difference, although it’s such a great story as well… which STP was lacking in. From those opening pans of New Orleans in DBL, I was hooked. Capping off with the classic sychronistic “climax” scene with Roberto Benigni dancing with Nicoletta Braschi to perhaps my favorite song, Irma Thomas singing “It’s Raining” and that scene at the fork in the road, it’s just a classic. Great soundtrack to those swamp scenes as well. Muller is great. Jarmusch led me to loving Kaurismaki, which led me to Ozu. All of them have something of what seems a still photographer aesthetic. Damn, I love that movie… may be time to watch it again.

    Comment by Mark S — October 11, 2006 @ 8:47 am

  4. Wenders’ early films take a lot of work on the part of the viewer – the parallels to appreciating subtleties in a photograph seems obvious to me — but the slow pacing and lack of focus on plot is too much for many people. If you’re willing to put in the effort, these are subtle movies full of magic.

    As Mark S alludes to above, Wenders was an influence on Jarmusch, and Yasujiro Ozu was an influence on Wenders. “Tokyo Story” and “Early Spring” are on DVD and worth seeking out. As a side note, “Tokyo Story” was one of Susan Sontag’s favorite and most watched movies.

    While New German Cinema ranks high for me as an influence for photography, Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 film “Le Samouraï” is tops. Even after repeated viewings this film continues to astonish me.

    Comment by Joe Reifer — October 12, 2006 @ 2:03 pm

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