Legendary German cinematographer Michael Ballhaus passed away today at the age of 81. During his illustrious career, Ballhaus formed close working relationships Michael Scorsese and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. He also did incomparable work for such directors as Robert Redford, Francis Ford Coppola, and Mike Nichols.
According to THR, Ballhaus passed away in Berlin on Tuesday after a brief illness. Thomas Rathnow, who works for Random House Germany, the publisher that released Ballhaus’s autobiography in 2014, said the following:
“Michael Ballhaus was an cinematographer who create unforgettable images. And he was a man with a sense of style, subtlety and a political commitment.”
Ballhaus made his directorial debut alongside Fassbinder, with the 1971 production Whity. Though Whity was a critical failure, the two went on to work together on sixteen of Fassbinder’s films, including legendary title The Marriage of Maria Braun.
Starting in the mid-1980s, Ballhaus began work with Martin Scorsese. The first film they made together, After Hours, went on to become a cult classic among fans of the beloved director. Ballhaus also acted as cinematographer for such Scorsese films as The Color of Money, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Goodfellas, the last of which garnered him the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Cinematography. He went on to work with Scorsese on Gangs of New York and The Departed. The Departed was his last ever Hollywood venture. The last film to receive Ballhaus’s keen visual style was 3096, a film by his wife and director Sherry Hormann.
The storied visual artist received three Oscar nominations during his career spanning nearly half a century, for Broadcast News, The Fabulous Baker Boys, and Gangs of New York. In 1990, he presided as Head of the Jury at the Berlin International Film Festival, to which he contributed many films.
This is a devastating loss for the filmmaking community, especially as Ballhaus was part of such a noteworthy and influential period of filmmaking during the 1970s and ’80s. His stylistic calling card was a 360-degree tracking shot, during which the camera would make a full revolution around the actor. His work has gone on to influence countless contemporary cinematographers.
Ballhaus is survived by his wife, Hormann, and children Sebastian and Florian. Florian has followed in his father’s footsteps, and also works as a cinematographer, with credits on films like The Devil Wears Prada, The Book Thief, and The Divergent Series: Insurgent.
R.I.P. Michael Ballhaus – August 5, 1935 – April 12, 2017