FILMFEST Mourns Michael Ballhaus
Michael Ballhaus at FILMFEST MÜNCHEN in 2013.
Leading contemporary German DoP Michael Ballhaus made his way from Lower Franconia to New York and Hollywood, a stellar career by any standards: He always forged ahead with discrete understatement, while his trademark was a circular move – as frantic as in Fassbinder’s MARTHA (1973), worshipful as in THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS (1989), which earned him his second Oscar nomination, or feverish as in Wolfgang Petersen’s OUTBREAK (1995).
Ballhaus, born in prewar Germany in 1935, was a survivor. He survived the outbursts of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and the foibles of Jack Nicholson, who he once said contributed more to the staging of THE DEPARTED (2006) than did director Martin Scorsese. He dove into the grit and splash of genre film with abandon, while remaining modest and retiring in private. He spoke openly and without vanity about his glaucoma, a serious malady for someone whose career revolved around sight and light.
Ballhaus spent his final years in his home town of Berlin, but still regularly visited Munich. He helped found the cinematography department at the University of Television and Film Munich (HFF), which he chaired from 2010 to 2015. In 2007, he served as Jury President of the INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF FILM SCHOOLS, presenting a special Jury President’s Award to DEATH OF SHULA, an Israeli road movie about a father who wants to bury his dog in the desert. „Life keeps disrupting his travels“, we wrote back then.
The travels of Michael Ballhaus’ camera were always free of disruption. The way he created images opened up spaces, where you can see people physically move in front of the camera. Simultaneously these images expose what is happening inside of these people emotionally.