«I met Robby for the first time in 1981, in a bar on a boat in Rotterdam during a festival where I was presenting my first film, Permanent Vacation. Wim Wenders knew I was a great fan of his and he told me exactly where I could meet him. I was really nervous when I introduced myself, but once we started talking, we never stopped. It was the start of one of the most important human relations of my life. Robby became my dearest friend, my collaborator and my maestro». This is how Jim Jarmusch describes his first meeting with Robby Müller, the director of photography who worked with directors like Jim Jarmusch, Lars von Trier, Roberto Benigni and Steve McQueen and helped write the history of cinema. What strikes you about Müller is that his relationships with the directors he worked with always went beyond the set. They were deep and genuine, like his friendship with Wim Wenders that we will talk about later.
Jarmusch’s affection for Müller also transcended the confines of cinema. At the beginning of 2020, SQÜRL, Jarmusch and Carter Logan’s post-rock duo, released an album entitled Some Music For Robby Müller. This was a series of tracks originally composed for the soundtrack to Living the Light - Robby Müller, a documentary by Claire Pijman in which friends and directors talk about Müller’s playful spirit and his unique perspective on the world that was so unHollywood. The documentary premièred at the Venice International Film Festival in 2018.
The trailer for Living the Light - Robby Müller
Born in Curaçao, in the Dutch Antilles on 4th April 1940, Müller died in Amsterdam on 3rd July 2018. He studied at the Netherlands Film Academy. His first work dates back to the 1960s: Müller belonged to a generation of young artists who began to move away from sets - which they considered obsolete. They preferred to venture out onto the streets and capture the real world. In the 1960s, to be exact in 1968, Müller met Wenders, when the man who was destined to become the director of Wings of Desire was still a cinema student in Munich. They became friends on set: Müller was a cameraman and Wenders was an assistant director. After that first meeting, Wenders asked Müller to do the photography in his graduation film.
«I think Wenders and I keep working together because it seems as though I can translate many of Wim’s dreams,» said Robby Müller.
The trailer for Living the Light - Robby Müller
Robby Müller preferred natural light to cumbersome, artificial lighting that could never be spontaneous. His photography is characterised by minimalist frames that are never over- thought. He moved on set with the lightness and agility of a photographer, as if he were simply holding a camera and not shouldering bulky equipment. Every photogram Müller worked on is filled with an apparent simplicity that gives the impression that what is happening is taking place right in front of the viewer’s eyes.
His sensitivity is also expressed through colour. The general temperature of the frames had to transmit meaning without ever representing the obvious.
So, let’s analyse perhaps his best-known film ever. A film that leaves a real impression on the viewer and has rightly gone down in cinema history. We are talking about Paris, Texas
by Wim Wenders, winner of the Palme d’Or for the best film at the Cannes Film Festival in 1984. The choice of his colour palette is highly symbolic and painstakingly applied, without ever looking artificial or contrived. Red, white and blue represent America and the American dream. In strong contrast with this triptych of colours is a disorienting, fluorescent green that represents the counterpoint of this dream: entropy, failure and disillusion.
Robby Müller always focused on the sentiment of the story narrated in the film and translated it into images, using light and colours that, like in Paris, Texas
, run through the film like the guitar riffs in the songs on Some Music For Robby Müller
Robby Müller always focused on the sentiment of the story narrated in the film and
translated it into images, using light and colours.
«What other people thought was a mistake, Robby considered a virtue.» commented Wenders, while explaining that no other director of photography would have left a green neon light in the frame, like the one in The American Friend. Müller, however, transformed a “mistake” (which the studio responsible for developing the film suggested should be corrected) into a distinctive element of the story recounted in the film (an existential thriller) and a visual symbol of the feelings that characterise the main character’s life.
The trailer for The American Friend (1977)
Watching the films Müller worked on and looking at the Polaroids
in which he captured the details of life around him, you can’t help but be impressed by his capacity to use light and colour to narrate feelings that therefore emerge naturally and delicately, like the notes of Dutch Light on Silver Water
, the second track of Some Music For Robby Müller
. These melancholy reverberations recreate, in music, the world seen through the eyes of a maestro of light.