Reading: Cinematography Robby Muller (2013), Van Deursen & De Vries

Linda Van Deursen & Marietta De Vries (2013) Cinematography Robby Muller. Zurich: JRP Ringier

I discovered Deursen & De Vries’ book Cinematography Robby Muller while browsing through Ashley Lauryssen’s Open College of the Arts study blog. Robby Muller was a Dutch cinematographer, whose inventive use of lighting and approach to composition were consistent elements within films by directors such as Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch. As a fan of both these filmmakers, II felt compelled to locate a copy of the book and find out more about this cinematographic auteur.

Organised thematically, the book collects together hundreds of shots from fourteen films Muller worked on during his career with directors such as Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch, Peter Bogdanovich and Lars von Trier.

Rather than analysing and discussing the techniques Muller used within individual films, the authors present a series of film stills, organised around several key themes found in Muller’s cinematic practice; such as filming road movies; filming in natural light; filming at different times of the day; filming lens flare. Most of the stills are accompanied by captions, in which some of the directors and technicians Muller worked with offer a brief comment on the images, providing a pithy insight into the way in which he worked.

The book contains stills from fourteen films on which Robby Muller worked as cinematographer, of which only Paris, Texas (dir.  Wim Wenders) and Down By Law (dir.  Jim Jarmusch) are familiar to me.

Alice in den Stadten (1974)
Falsche Bewegung(1975)
Im Lauf Der Zeit(1976)
Der Amerikanische Freund (1977)
Die Linkshandige Frau (1978)
Saint Jack (1979)
Repo Man (1984)
Paris, Texas (1984)
Down By Law (1986)
Barfly (1987)
Mystery Train (1989)
Dead Man (1995)
Breaking the Waves (1996)
Dancer in the Dark (2000)

What struck me about the film stills contained in the book, is the way in which Muller uses light to convey a mood. His ability to use both natural and artificial light in a way that appears so natural to the location. This is summarised nicely in the caption to the stills from Saint Jack (1979), in which Theo Bierkens, the best boy on the film, says ‘He [Muller] always looked carefully at what a location had to offer and enhanced that. Not in a dogmatic way, but more intuitive’ (Duersen & Vries, p.89).

Together, these film stills are a wonderful resource on the creative practice of a cinematographer who is passionate about light, how it works and how it falls within a scene. It’s the kind of book I can browse through, look at a single shot or a series of shots, and see exactly what Muller saw when his eye was to the viewfinder. It’s a book I shall be returning to again for advice and inspiration when lighting my own moving images.


Van Deursen, L., & De Vries, M. (2013) Cinematography Robby Muller. Zurich: JRP Ringier