American Cinematographer - July 2017 - 84

IN MEMORIAM
Michael Ballhaus, ASC, 1935-2017

Michael Ballhaus, ASC died at
his home in Berlin on April 12 at the
age of 81.
Ballhaus was born in Berlin on
Aug. 5, 1935, to stage actors Oskar
Ballhaus and Lena Hutter, who
encouraged his creativity. "Right after
the war, they founded a cultural
agency and began inviting orchestras
and conductors to come to Coburg to
play works by the great German
composers," he told AC (Feb. '07).
"Two years later, they founded the
Fränkische Theater, which was headquartered in an old castle near
Coburg. I was going to school, but in
my free time I did everything I could to
help out at the theater."
Ballhaus' love of cinema took
root in his teen years. After developing
an interest in still photography, he had
an opportunity to visit a family friend,
renowned director Max Ophüls, on
the set of Lola Montès. Later, after studying
photography for two years and becoming
"an officially certified 35mm photographer,"
Ballhaus moved with his wife, Helga, to
Baden-Baden, where she had landed a job at
a nearby theater. Ballhaus hoped to find
work on feature films but initially had no
luck. "Then this TV station opened up in
Baden-Baden, and they needed operators for
these big electronic cameras," he recounted.
"I got a job, and I worked in TV for almost
nine years in Baden-Baden and Munich."
He shot his first feature, Der Klassenaufsatz, when he was just 25. "I learned
that making a movie involves teamwork,"
Ballhaus reflected. "I was a good operator,
thanks to my work with those big TV
cameras, but I needed help with the lighting.
I knew what I wanted, but I didn't know
exactly how to achieve it. The assistant and
gaffer helped me, but if they did something I
didn't like, I told them so. I couldn't tell them
exactly how to use a 5K or 10K, but I learned
while doing it."
After mastering the basics of his craft,
Ballhaus began honing his skills. While
84

July 2017

producing, directing and shooting a documentary in Ireland, he received a phone call
from a friend, Ulli Lommel, who was in
Almería, Spain, preparing to produce and
act in a Western titled Whity, written and
directed by prolific wunderkind Rainer
Werner Fassbinder. "Ulli asked me, 'Do you
like Fassbinder?'" Ballhaus recalled. "I said,
'Yes, why?' And he replied, 'Do you want to
shoot a movie with him?' I answered, 'Sure,
when does it start?' He said, 'You should be
here in two days!' Two days later, I arrived in
Almería to meet Mr. Fassbinder." The cinematographer and director would go on to
make 15 films together.
In 1982, Ballhaus moved to the
United States, where his first job was shooting Dear Mr. Wonderful, a Germanfinanced, New York-based project directed
by Peter Lilienthal, an old friend from his TV
days. The cinematographer's first fullfledged American production was John
Sayles' 1983 romance Baby It's You; two of
the film's producers, Amy Robinson and
Griffin Dunne, later helped Ballhaus connect
with Martin Scorsese.
American Cinematographer

With Scorsese, the cinematographer would shoot seven features: After
Hours, The Color of Money (AC Nov.
'86), The Last Temptation of Christ,
GoodFellas, The Age of Innocence (AC
Oct. '93), Gangs of New York (AC Jan.
'03) - for which he received ASC and
Oscar nominations - and The
Departed (AC Oct. '06). Ballhaus
received his first Academy Award
nomination for his work on director
James L. Brooks' Broadcast News (AC
April '88), and another for The Fabulous Baker Boys (AC Nov. '89), directed
by Steve Kloves.
Ballhaus further demonstrated his
range by tackling comedy (Postcards
From the Edge, What About Bob?),
musical drama (The Mambo Kings),
"courtroom noir" (Guilty by Suspicion;
AC March '91), classic horror (Bram
Stoker's Dracula; AC Nov. '92), cerebral
drama (Quiz Show), action-adventure
(Outbreak, Air Force One) and politics
(Primary Colors).
Suffering from glaucoma, the cinematographer formally retired after shooting
the 2013 drama 3096 Days, directed by his
second wife, filmmaker Sherry Hormann. Six
years earlier, in 2007, the ASC presented Ballhaus with the International Achievement
Award at the organization's annual awards
gala. "This award comes from the best cinematographers in the world, which means a
lot to me," he said of the recognition. "I've
worked pretty hard over the years, but I've
also been very lucky. Making movies was
a hobby that I turned into my job. If everyone
knew how much I loved doing it, they
wouldn't give me any money!"
He is survived by his wife, Sherry; sons
Florian Ballhaus, ASC and Jan Sebastian Ballhaus; and four grandchildren.
●
For an expanded version of this article,
visit www.theasc.com/news/in-memoriammichael-ballhaus-asc-1935-2017.


http://www.theasc.com/news/in-memoriam-michael-ballhaus-asc-1935-2017 http://www.theasc.com/news/in-memoriam-michael-ballhaus-asc-1935-2017

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Contents
American Cinematographer - July 2017 - Cover1
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American Cinematographer - July 2017 - Contents
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American Cinematographer - July 2017 - 41A
American Cinematographer - July 2017 - 41B
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