Martin Scorsese Remembers Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus: "For Him, Nothing Was Impossible"

Ballhaus lensed Scorsese films including 'Goodfellas' and 'Gangs of New York.'
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Martin Scorsese (left) presented the ASC International Award to Michael Ballhaus in 2007.

Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, who died Tuesday at the age of 81, "changed my way of thinking about what it is to make a film. He was a great artist," Martin Scorsese said of the man with whom he shared a two-decade "creative partnership, and a very close and enduring friendship."

Ballhaus' applauded work appeared in such Scorsese classics as Goodfellas, The Age of Innocence and Gangs of New York. The cinematographer earned Oscar nominations for Gangs, as well as, earlier in his career, The Fabulous Baker Boys and Broadcast News.

Scorsese, in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, said of Ballhaus: "By the time we met, he had already made film history with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and I revered him. He was a lovely human being, and he always had a warm smile for even the toughest situations — anyone who knew him will remember his smile. We started working together in the '80s, during a low ebb in my career. And it was Michael who really gave me back my sense of excitement in making movies.

"For him, nothing was impossible," the director continued. "If I asked him for something difficult, he would approach it with enthusiasm: He never told me we couldn’t do something, and he loved to be challenged. If we were running out of time and light, he would figure out a way to work faster. And if we were behind schedule and getting into a situation where we had to eliminate set-ups, he would sit down with me calmly and we would work it out together: instead of getting frustrated about what was being taken away, he would always think in terms of what we had. Really, he gave me an education, and he changed my way of thinking about what it is to make a film. He was a great artist. He was also a precious and irreplaceable friend, and this is a great loss for me.”

A member of the American Society of Cinematographers and German Society of Cinematographers, Ballhaus was a well-respected member of his community. He received the ASC International Award in 2007 and Camerimage’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.

"One of our great cinematographers has passed,” said ASC president Kees van Oostrum. “Michael was an ultimate ambassador of our artistry and technology. His keen vision will be missed by all of us. He leaves a tremendous and inspiring body of work. Our thoughts go out to the Ballhaus family."

Added ASC’s immediate past president Richard Crudo: “He was a lovely guy. He was extremely humble and a brilliant cinematographer. His work will live on for many years. We are all going to miss him.”

Actor Paul Sorvino, who appeared in Goodfellas, also testified of Ballhaus, "We lost a great artist, he had a great life, and helped to make one of the greatest movies ever made, Goodfellas. He will be missed."

Ballhaus’ son, Florian Ballhaus, carries on the family tradition, having worked as a cinematographer on such films as The Devil Wears Prada and The Book Thief.

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