The film world lost a true artist yesterday, with the death of celebrated cinematographer Michael Ballhaus. It was a passing that shook the movie community, and it didn’t take long for tributes to pour in, including one from frequent collaborator Martin Scorsese honoring the lenser.
Ballhaus’ reputation was cemented by his extensive work with German auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder, which made him sought after by artistic leaning Hollywood directors, landing him a wide range of mainstream projects including “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” ”Working Girl,” “Postcards from the Edge,” “Primary Colors,” “What about Bob?” and “Quiz Show.”
However, he found a longtime creative partner in Martin Scorsese, shooting seven pictures with the director: “After Hours,” “The Color of Money,” “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “The Age of Innocence,” “Goodfellas,” “Gangs Of New York,” and “The Departed.” It speaks to Ballhaus’ skills that each of those films is so different in mood and temperament, yet he met the high demands of Scorsese, and the filmmaker shared a touching remembrance of the cinematographer (via Variety):
“For over 20 years, Michael Ballhaus and I had a real creative partnership, and a very close and enduring friendship. By the time we met, he had already made film history with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and I revered him. He was a lovely human being, and he always had a warm smile for even the toughest situations—anyone who knew him will remember his smile. We started working together in the 80s, during a low ebb in my career. And it was Michael who really gave me back my sense of excitement in making movies. For him, nothing was impossible. If I asked him for something difficult, he would approach it with enthusiasm: he never told me we couldn’t do something, and he loved to be challenged. If we were running out of time and light, he would figure out a way to work faster. And if we were behind schedule and getting into a situation where we had to eliminate set-ups, he would sit down with me calmly and we would work it out together: instead of getting frustrated about what was being taken away, he would always think in terms of what we had. Really, he gave me an education, and he changed my way of thinking about what it is to make a film. He was a great artist. He was also a precious and irreplaceable friend, and this is a great loss for me.”
Ballhaus will be missed, but his catalog of work leaves plenty to watch and study for years to come.