The Kinemathek at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin is showing the works of Robby Müller. You’ve never heard of him? For sure you’ve seen one of the movies of this absolute “master of light” – that’s how the subtitle of the show calls him. Based on the work he did for the three big directing figures Wim Wenders, Lars von Trier and Jim Jarmusch the show explores the congenial part of Robby Müller specifically and the meaning of being the director of photography in general.
Robby Müller, born in 1940 in a Dutch colony in the Caribbeans, and not arriving to the Netherlands before he turned 14 years old, developed an extremely good eye for illumination. He was not interested in creating perfectly staged worlds and turned his back on studio movies. For each of the film masterpieces he invented a language of light that went hand in hand with the tale. That’s why he has no unmistakable style, but rather saw himself as a craftsman in a serving function – his humble understatement is mentioned by all the directors as typically Robby. Lars von Trier explains Robby’s sensitivity to light as a private fact – each hotel room had to be adjusted to his needs by moving lamps and changing window curtains.
With the young Wim Wenders Müller reinvented the road movie ‘Paris Texas’ being its climax. The saturated colors and especially the peep show scenes with Nastassja Kinski, which are still a revelation today, broke way for Wenders eternal legacy in the mount Olympus of movies. For ‘American Friend’ it was Müllers decision to keep the green neon light as a means of style instead of masking it out in post production which was usual up to that point.
Lars von Trier, famous as a founder of Dogma 95, a group that subjugated strict dogmas to counter the increasing artificiality, was a big admirer of Robby Müller and engaged him among other films for ‘Breaking the Waves’. He wanted Müller to know as less as possible about the script and rather working like a documentarian – a great film experiment, that surely brought Müller to his limits.
Jim Jarmusch finally, who lovingly calls Müller “a Dutch interior painter”, was very familiar with Müllers oeuvre as a young man and met him, as Wim Wenders predicted, on the filmfest Rotterdam at the peanut machine in that bar. Reverence became collaboration, that we owe ‘Dead Man’, ‘Down by Law’ and ‘Mystery Train’. Robby Müller always stayed true to himself. When Jarmusch and his productions became too big he turned back to independent projects.