Robby Müller: Beauty destroys the drama

mueller-robbyAs a continuation of Film Career’s film classic series I want to talk today about Dutch camera maestro Robby Müller who is, according to Jim Jarmusch, cinematographic equivalent of the greatest Dutch painters of light such as Vermeer or Rembrandt.

Robby graduated from Netherlands Film Academy in 1964 and during years of his career worked on over sixty films – shorts & feature, in both Hollywood and in independent scenes.

First recognition as a cameraman he achieved working with Wim Wenders on Alice in the Cities (1974), Kings of the Road (1976), The American Friend (1977) and Paris, Texas (1984). Later Lars von Trier asked him for collaboration and he created grainy, hand-held camera look of Breaking the Waves (1996) and Dancer in the Dark (2000).

I personally got to know Müller watching Jim Jarmusch’s films. His camera movements and stylistic cinematic choices made the distinctive look of the Jim’s best films, such as Down by Law (1986), Mystery Train (1989), Dead Man (1995) and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)

In the video below Robby talks about working on “Down by Law” and shares some nuts and bolts of his methods as a cinematographer.

 About “Down by Law”

  • “Down by Law” was shot on 35mm black & white film using Arri BL camera with minimal accessories (night lenses).
  • Robby used High Speed film for night scenes, Double X film for interiors and Plus X for exteriors.
  • The great simplicity of cinematography in “Down by Law” achieved without zoom lens and was solely performed by Robby. It means he received no help from a camera assistant or a focus puller.
  • Team Jarmusch + Müller decided not to use the storyboards. Instead, they carefully scout the locations and find better-suited shots to the New Orlean’s environment in this fairy tale-like film’s narrative.
  • They also agreed to shoot no more than one or two takes because they knew after two takes the actors would start acting and it is not what they wanted.
  • Muller made long takes of one mise en scene rather than conventional multiple close ups that usually cause the unnecessary distractions during the scene. Long takes created a special cinematic atmosphere.

Is not it what the all-true cinema is about?

Robby on conventional way of shooting

I hate interruptions. It is like a heart beat. You cannot stop living and then after 5 minutes live again. The problem with conventional way of shooting is you loose the momentum, always. Everything is cut up in little scenes and not so much interaction between two people left but [the reality is] manipulated. The terrible thing is that you’re very too long busy filming the scene with so many, many shots and interruptions. It is like a ship if it stops, it takes much more time to carry moving again. The process of pure filming is not interesting enough for me. My main zeal is as fewer interruptions as possible because when you do it, you give the energy to one big moment. If you have to repeat your big moment, you can only copy it and it is always physical and makes the whole thing less believable.



Here is the small excerpt from “Down by Law”, the moment when Roberto Benigni’s character, Bob, reveals why he is in jail.

What do you think about Robby Müller’s methods? Are they differ from your own shooting techniques? What do you think about them? Let us know in the comment section below.

About zinasemenova

Russian filmmaker and blogger at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: