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Michael Bellhaus, Cinematographer Of ‘Departed’ & ‘Goodfellas’, Dies

Michael Ballhaus

Michael Ballhaus, Director of Photography on some of the most important films in Hollywood and around the world, has died. He was 81

Known for his long time collaboration with Martin Scorsese, Ballhaus shot cult classic films like Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, and Departed with Scorsese, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula with Francis Ford Coppola. He pioneered the 360 degree tracking shot, which became somewhat of a signature on all his projects. He was especially known for his rich visuals, that “always looks more expensive than it really was”. 

Ballhaus first began working with German filmmaker Rainer Fassbender, with whom he developed his unique style of composing a scene. In an interview with Variety, he said, “It helped a lot because he was not an easy director. He was very hard on me and he was very pushy. He always cracked the whip to be fast and not to spend too much time. So I learned to be fast and still tried to be good. That was a big help later when I started shooting in the States. It was also a big help because he was so temperamental that from then on I knew I could handle every director in the world.”

Martin Scorsese has also paid tribute to Ballhaus. In a statement, Scorsese said, “For over 20 years, Michael Ballhaus and I had a real creative partnership, and a very close and enduring friendship. By the time we met, he had already made film history with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and I revered him. He was a lovely human being, and he always had a warm smile for even the toughest situations—anyone who knew him will remember his smile. We started working together in the 80s, during a low ebb in my career.”

The Berlinale Film Festival honoured Ballhaus with a Golden Bear for his lifetime contribution to cinema. In its homage, the festival said, “The cinematographer’s intent and his genius is the way he comes up with visual language to suit each individual director and film.”