Wednesday, April 12, 2017

5 Off My Head: RIP Michael Ballhaus

Michael Ballhaus, perhaps the most important cinematographer in the shaping my own visual encyclopedia, has died at the age of 81. But oh, what an 81 years he gave us. I do a crappy job writing up the cinematographers that matter to me so a search only turns up one reference to Ballhaus here on the site when I linked to a long interview with him back in 2015; this does an extreme disservice to this man's importance in the shaping of my movie eyeballs, which kind of cannot be overstated. 

Ballhaus came from TV in his mid-20s to work with Rainer Werner Fassbinder -- their first film together was the racially-charged wacko spaghetti western called Whity in 1971 which starred Fassbinder's lover (weren't they all) Günther Kaufmann as an abused butler at a post Civil War plantation. The film is gorgeous (aren't they all).

It's good but it wouldn't make my top five of their collaborations together - the two worked together sixteen times, and basically changed the language of film while doing so. Ballhaus went on to shoot classic after classic after classic for the rest of his career...

... Martin Scorsese's After Hours and Goodfellas and The Age of Innocence! Bram Stoker's Dracula! A bunch of great 80s comedies like What About Bob and Working Girl and Broadcast News! The list goes on and on. But I want to take it back to the Fassbinders because we wouldn't be any place without 'em. So let's do a list...

My 5 Fave Fassbinder Movies
Shot By Michael Ballhaus

That this list doesn't have room for his gorgeous pair of "Hanna Schygulla & Nazis" films The Marriage of Maria Braun and Lili Marleen or the aforementioned sleaze of Satan's Brew or the single location spectacle of Beware of a Holy Whore just shows you how deep a bench we're talking about here. What a legacy, and what a privilege to still have it here at our fingertips.

Thank you, Mr. Ballhaus.

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