Michael Ballhaus (1931-2017): Seven clips to celebrate a cinematography giant

Michael Ballhaus, who shot the best-known films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Martin Scorsese, has died at 81.

German cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (1931-2017) has died at 81, in the middle of a retrospective of the filmmaker for whom he shot some of his greatest movies.

The British Film Institute has been screening a selection of films by the German polymath Rainer Werner Fassbinder in London, many of which have been lensed by Ballhaus. The cinematographer was a member of Fassbinder’s group of frequent collaborators. Ballhaus’s work covered a range of styles – documentary, expressionism, glossiness, realism – and his camera, whether stationary or on the move, brilliantly illuminated Fassbinder’s relentless attacks on social conventions and sexual norms and his critique of capitalism.

Michael Ballhaus. Photo credit: Franz Richter/Wikipedia images [Licensed under CC by 2.5]
Michael Ballhaus. Photo credit: Franz Richter/Wikipedia images [Licensed under CC by 2.5]

Ballhaus, who was born in 1935, died in Berlin. He is survived by his second wife, filmmaker Sherry Hormann, and his sons Sebastian and Florian – the latter is also a cinematographer.

The Marriage of Maria Braun (1976).

One of Fassbinder’s greatest films, which also counts as one of Ballhaus’s most accomplished works, is The Marriage of Maria Braun (1976), starring Hanna Schygulla as a wartime bride who takes on a series of lovers in her fight for survival. Ballhaus worked with Fassbinder on 17 films, including Chinese Roulette (its 360-degree camera movements are legendary), Martha (about a woman in an abusive marriage) and The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (set in a single room). Fassbinder’s widely documented verbal and physical abuse of his collaborators finally ended the working relationship, but in the meantime, Ballhaus had produced some of cinema’s most indelible images.

Chinese Roulette (1976).

Ballhaus’s last film with Fassbinder was Lili Marleen (1981). The second phase of his career in Hollywood, one that got him far greater recognition than the low-budget and mostly locally distributed films by Fassbinder, began with John Sayles’s romantic drama Baby It’s You in 1983. Two years later, Ballhaus shot Martin Scorsese’s black comedy After Hours, set over the course of a single night.

Ballhaus and Scorsese began a lengthy collaboration, producing The Color of Money (1986), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Goodfellas (1990), The Age of Innocence (1993), Gangs of New York (2002) and The Departed (2006).

The Color of Money, for which Paul Newman won his first Oscar for Best Actor, is about a pool hustler who returns to the game to defeat his former protege (Tom Cruise). Ballhaus beautifully lit the grungy, low-lit pool parlours where the game is a metaphor for life itself.

The Color of Money (1986).

Ballhaus’s most acclaimed work with Scorsese is in the Mafia drama Goodfellas. The single-take tracking shot that marks the initiation of Henry Hill into the Mafia family has been widely imitated, including in Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya (1998).

Goodfellas (1990).

Ballahaus’s Hollywood credits in the 1980s include several acclaimed movies, such as James L Brooks’s Broadcast News (1987), Mike Nichols’s Working Girl (1988) and Steve Kloves’s The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989). Ballhaus was nominated for Oscars for Broadcast News and The Fabulous Baker Boys.

Broadcast News (1987).

Among Ballhaus’s important movies in the ’90s were Frank Oz’s What About Bob? (1991), Robert Redford’s Quiz Show (1994), Barry Levinson’s Sleepers (1996) and Wolfgang Petersen’s Air Force One (1997). His most striking contribution to the decade is Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Francis Ford Coppola’s inventive retelling of the vampire legend.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).

After working with Scorsese for the last time on The Departed in 2006, Ballhaus shot his final feature, Sherry Hormann’s German indie 3096, in 2013. In between, in 2009, he directed with Ciro Cappellari In Berlin, a documentary about the city 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Among the more unusual credits Ballhaus stacked up were for Madonna’s music videos for the songs True Blue and Papa Don’t Preach. Both videos were directed by James Foley, whose 1984 debut Reckless was shot by Ballhaus.

Papa Don’t Preach (1983).
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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.


During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.