Robby Muller, Cinematographer on 'Paris, Texas' and 'Breaking the Waves,' Dies at 78

Robbie Mu?ller Obit - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of The Netherland Society of Cinematographers

The legendary Dutch DP worked often with Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch and shot such films as 'Repo Man' and 'To Live and Die in L.A.'

Robby Muller, the famed Dutch cinematographer who collaborated with directors Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch and Lars von Trier on Paris, Texas, Down by Law and Breaking the Waves, respectively, has died. He was 78.

Muller died Tuesday at his home in Amsterdam after a long battle with Binswanger's disease, Herman Verschuur of the Netherlands Society of Cinematographers told The Hollywood Reporter.

Muller was known for his low-tech style, innovative camera techniques and expressive use of natural light and color — his work was likened to Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer — that "had a permanent influence on the film language overall," the society noted.

"Next to camera, light was his most important instrument," his family said in a statement. "He loved natural light and could wait endlessly for the right light conditions."

Muller also shot Repo Man (1984), directed by Alex Cox; William Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A. (1985); and Mad Dog and Glory (1993), helmed by John McNaughton.

In addition to the wonderful Palme d'Or winner Paris, Texas, starring Harry Dean Stanton, Muller and Wenders worked together dozens of times, with The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1972), Alice in the Cities (1974), American Friend (1977), Until the End of the World (1991), Buena Vista Social Club (1999) and Beyond the Clouds (1995) among their efforts.

Jarmusch said that Muller taught him how to improvise and to embrace the moment.

"Generally, we tried to keep thinking on our feet, so anything was changeable," the director said in a 2016 New York Times profile of the cinematographer. "He taught me later a lot about color as well, and how it relates to your emotions, or how the sky at magic hour changes every 10 seconds and becomes a different shade.

"Robby would teach me things like, it says in the script that it's a sunny day, but then on the day of the shoot it would be cloudy and about to rain. Most people would just say, 'OK, let's not shoot today.' Robby would always say, 'Let's think. Maybe the clouds and the rain is better. Let's not be closed off. Let's be open to what we might do.'"

Their work included Down by Law (1986), Mystery Train (1989), Dead Man (1995), Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) and Coffee and Cigarettes (2003).

Muller and von Trier, meanwhile, did the Bjork drama Dancer in the Dark (2000) after Breaking the Waves (1996).

Born on April 4, 1940, on Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles, Muller was the son of a Shell Oil engineer. He grew up in Indonesia until 1953, when he and his family moved to Amsterdam.

Muller studied cinematography at the Netherlands Film Academy from 1962 to '64 before moving to Germany, where he met Wenders.

Muller received the international achievement award from the American Society of Cinematographers in 2013. Three years later, a collection of his Polaroids, other photos and video diaries were shown as part of a Master of Light exhibition at the EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam.

"There's a certain kind of magic or poetry to whatever he shoots, but he's much more grounded than that," Oscar-winning filmmaker Steve McQueen, who worked with Muller on a 2002 short film, Carib's Leap, told the Times. "I compare him to a blues musician in a way. He plays just a few chords, and he conveys what he needs to convey. He's a purist."