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Michael Ballhaus, 81, Cinematographer For Scorsese And Fassbinder

Apr 18, 2017

Michael Ballhaus, left, with the director Martin Scorsese on the set of The Departed, the 2006 Oscar winner. ‘It was Michael who really gave me back my sense of excitement in making movies,’ Scorsese said. Photograph: Allstar/Warner Bros

The cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, who has died aged 81, helped to realise the work of two visionaries: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, with whom he made 15 films, and Martin Scorsese, for whom he shot seven, including the gruesome gangster drama Goodfellas (1990), which tested this exceedingly gentle man’s tolerance of violence. “I wouldn’t have done this movie with another director,” he said in 2010. “These discussions – whether there is enough brain in the blood – are so absurd that you almost want to throw up.” Their other pictures together included the lustrous Edith Wharton adaptation The Age of Innocence (1993), the grand-and-grubby period piece Gangs of New York (2002) and the thriller The Departed (2006), which won the best picture Oscar.

Much of the visual dynamism associated with Fassbinder and Scorsese must be credited also to Ballhaus. There are the complicated but elegant compositions in Fassbinder, for example, where closeups, reaction shots and the simultaneous movement of actors are often incorporated into a single frame without recourse to cutting – a style exemplified by one of Ballhaus’s heroes, Max Ophüls. There are the accelerated zooms and dolly shots in Scorsese’s films, where the camera rushes toward a face or an object to afford it special emphasis. “It was Michael who really gave me back my sense of excitement in making movies,” Scorsese said. “For him, nothing was impossible.”