'Goodfellas' Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus Dies at 81

The German DOP worked with star directors like Martin Scorsese, Robert Redford, Rainer Werner Fassbender and Wolfgang Petersen.

Veteran German cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, who brought his trademark panoramic tracking shot to the works of Robert Redford, Martin Scorsese and Rainer Werner Fassbender, has died. He was 81.

Ballhaus passed away Tuesday evening in Berlin after a short illness, the German publishing house Verlags-Anstalt, which published his autobiography in 2014, said Wednesday. “Michael Ballhaus was an cinematographer who create unforgettable images. And he was a man with a sense of style, subtlety and a political commitment,” DVA’s Thomas Rathnow, a publisher with Random House Germany, said in a statement while paying tribute to Ballhaus. 

The German cinematographer received three Oscar nominations during his career, for work on Gangs of New York, The Fabulous Baker Boys and Broadcast News. Born in August 1935 in Eichelsdorf, Germany, Ballhaus started in film after director Max Ophuls, a relative, allowed him onto the set of Lola Montes in 1955.

He followed Lilienthal to New York to handle the camera work on Dear Mr. Wonderful in 1981. A year later, Ballhaus worked with John Sayles on Baby, It’s You.

Over a long Hollywood career, Ballhaus’ DOP credits included Goodfellas for Martin Scorsese, Robert Redford’s The Legend of Bagger Vance and Air Force One for Wolfgang Petersen. Scorsese first picked Ballhaus to lens the 1985 dark comedy After Hours and they instantly connected.

The German cinematographer would go on to shoot other Scorsese films like The Last Temptation of Christ and The Departed, his last Hollywood effort.

Ballhaus shot 17 movies with German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, including The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant and The Marriage of Maria Braun. It was during the shooting of Martha that Ballhaus developed his legendary 360-degree tracking shot, where the camera moves in a full circle around an actor.

He was married to the German actress Helga Maria Betten from 1960 to 2006 and to Sherry Hormann starting in 2011.

SOURCE: Hollywood