Living the Light—Robby Müller

- THE NETHERLANDS / 2018 / English, Dutch, German, French / Color, B&W / DCP / 86 min

Director: Claire Pijman
Photography: Robby Müller, Claire Pijman
Editing: Katharina Wartena
Sound: Rik Meier, Piotr Van Dijk
Music: SQÜRL / Jim Jarmusch & Carter Logan
Producer: Carolijn Borgdorff / Moondocs
World Sales: Wide House

Robby Müller (1940–2018) was a cinematographer known for the films he shot for Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch. Tracing his life and work, this documentary places a re-examination of celebrated footage from films such as Alice in the Cities and Down by Law alongside an unearthing of his private Polaroids and home videos. When we see the gaze he directed at everyday moments, such as in time spent with his family or in hotels, we realize how inseparable his life was from his work.

[Director’s Statement] I always was fascinated by camerawork and went to film school to study it. Of course, I knew about Robby Müller and admired his work, but we never met because he lived in Germany.

Then one day I suddenly got a call from Robby Müller himself, initiated by his wife Andrea, whom I had worked with. They had moved to Amsterdam and he needed an assistant. He sounded like a really nice, friendly man on the phone and it was with a heavy heart that I refused. I had just decided to stop being an assistant and continue as a cinematographer.

Müller respected my decision, which was characteristic of him. In the same conversation, he invited me to come and meet him. Shortly after that he asked me to operate a camera during the Amsterdam shoot of Wim Wenders Buena Vista Social Club (1999). Later he also engaged me sometimes as a second unit DOP.

Müller looked through the camera as if he was looking through his own eyes. Not through a lens, but from the perspective of his own feelings and position. Something I could very much relate to in my documentary work. He was always curious and there was always an interaction with Müller: he listened to the things I—a relative rookie—had to say. Our working relationship grew into a long-term friendship.

Since 2007, Müller had suffered from vascular dementia. He couldn’t talk anymore, but he still had his images that could speak for him. Robby gave me access to his personal archive, to all the material he has filmed and photographed throughout his career: Video8, DV tapes, photos and Polaroids. With the help of Andrea, I could communicate with Robby and went through the archive. Seeing these images reinforced what he taught me. I gratefully used the material to tell his story about his love of the light. And I am very honored to have had the opportunity to do so.

Claire Pijman

In 1990 Claire Pijman graduated in cinematography from the Netherlands Film Academy in Amsterdam. Since then she has worked as a cinematographer on documentaries and fiction. Pijman worked as a cameraman on Good Morning Karachi by Sabiha Sumar, and Jermal by Ravi Bharwani. A longtime friendship and apprenticeship with Robby Müller started after she operated one of the cameras on Buena Vista Social Club by Wim Wenders. Pijman considers Müller one of her most important inspirations. She has made several documentaries, including Foot on the Moon (1999, on the set of Dancer in the Dark), and Talking Guitars (2007). Living the Light is her most recent film.