“He’s Robby Müller, but don’t tell him that!”

Don’t Try This At Home: From Dogma to Dogville is the story of the Mini DV revolution that occurred in independent filmmaking in the late 1990’s. Directed by Matthias Maass, this documentary focuses on three of the most important cameramen of the period: Anthony Dod Mantle, Benedict Neuenfels and Robby Müller. These men can rightfully be credited as the fore-runners today’s independent and art-house cinema. Müller is reknowned for his breathtaking art work in the movies of Jim Jarmusch and Wim Wenders, as well as for the scandal he created with his work on Breaking the Waves. He shot his debut feature film, My Brother Tom, with an amateur camera, a technique which was repeated in his subsequent films, including Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People.

Anthony Dod Mantle worked in a variety of films across a vast range of artistic approaches, from his break in the industry with The Feast  to his later work on films like 28 Days Later  and Dogville. His camera image design for Slumdog Millionaire  fetched him the Academy Award in 2009. The German cinematographer Benedict Neuenfels belongs to the younger generation of cameramen in German. As someone who is always in search of new artistic methods and approaches he has been responsible for controversies with The Rock, as well as competing for the Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin Film Festival, before winning Best Foreign Film at the 2008 Academy Awards for his film The Counterfeiters.

Here’s a great video interview with legendary cinematographer Robby Müller (whose longtime associates include Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch, and Lars von Trier) for the Criterion release of Down by Law. “Müller says that Jarmusch’s only directions to him were that ‘it’s just like a fairy tale.’ He gets into a lot of meaty technical details regarding his choices in cameras, lenses, lighting, film stock, etc. A real treat for technophiles.”

I loved Robby Müller’s work and I asked Wim Wenders in 1980 how I might meet him. I was going to the Rotterdam Film Festival to show my first film, Permanent Vacation, and at that time in Rotterdam the people who visited the festival stayed on a boat that was harboured there, it had a bar in it, and Wim said, ‘Just go on the boat and in the bar next to the peanut machine, Robby Müller will be sitting there.’ So I went to Rotterdam, I went on the boat, I went in the bar, and next to the peanut machine Robby Müller was sitting there. (Laughter) Seriously. So I sat down next to him and started talking to him. And we hung out quite a bit at the festival and he saw my first film, and he said to me eventually, ‘If you ever want to work together man, let me know.’ That was a big thing for me. I made my next film Stranger Than Paradise with my friend Tom DiCillo, because Tom was working then as a director of photography, but he really wasn’t interested in shooting films, so when I wrote Down By Law, I immediately called Robby Müller.

The beautiful thing about Robby is that he starts the process by talking to you about what the film means, what the story is about, what the characters are about. He starts from the inside out, which is really, really such a great way. I’ve learned that you find the look of the film later after you’ve found the essence of the film, what its atmosphere is, what it’s about and then you look at locations together, you start talking about light and colour, about what film material to use and the general look of the film, and we’ve worked together a lot now, so we don’t have to discuss as many things as other people might because we understand each other. He considers himself to be an artisan in a way. I remember, especially in Dead Man, the crew and I were joking a lot by saying, ‘He’s Robby Müller, but don’t tell him that!’ He considers he has a lens, he has film material and he has light. Sometimes crew members would mention some modern piece of equipment, ‘We could do that shot with a lumacrane,’ and Robbie would say, ‘What is a lumacrane?’ I think he’s like a Dutch interior painter, like Vermeer or de Hoeck, who was born in the wrong century. —Jim Jarmusch

Robby Müller shooting Paris, Texas.

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