‘Goodfellas’ cinematographer Michael Ballhaus dies aged 81

The Film Doctor team send our love to the family, friends and spirit of Michael Ballhaus, the Goodfellas, The Departed and Air Force One cinematographer who passed away in Berlin on Tuesday (April 11)  at the age of 81.

“Michael Ballhaus was a cinematographer who created unforgettable images. And he was a man with a sense of style, subtlety and a political commitment,” said Thomas Rathnow of German publisher Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt (DVA) which published Ballhaus’s autobiography.

Ballhaus’s publicist confirmed his death with The Hollywood Reporter.

RIP Goodfellas cinematographer Michael Ballhaus dead Gangs of New York The Departed movie film obituary
Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (centre) on the set of The Age of Innocence with director Martin Scorsese – Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures

The three-time Oscar-nominee – nominated for Gangs of New York, The Fabulous Baker Boys and Broadcast News – was born in 1935 in Eichelsdorf, Germany, and started his career in film after legendary, filmmaking relative Max Ophuls introduced him to the set of 1955 movie Lola Montes.

He soon carved a name out for himself for working closely with dramatic arthouse legend Rainier Werner Fassbinder on 17 movies, including The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.

Goodfellas – photo courtesy of Warner Bros.
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After travelling to work in New York, Ballhaus racked up a string of enviable credits working for directors Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, The Departed), Robert Redford (The Legend of Bagger Vance, Quiz Show), Francis Ford Coppola (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and Wolfgang Peterson (Air Force One).

Other movies Ballhaus shot include Working Girl, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Outbreak and Wild Wild West.

Last year he said of starting his career with Fassbinder: “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.”


RIP Michael. Check out one of his most iconic shots from Goodfellas below:

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