People In Film | Anton Corbijn

Anton Corbijn, Director of The American

Anton Corbijn is not unlike George Clooney’s protagonist in The American, the expat hitman holed up in an Italian village. Corbijn, just like Clooney’s Jack, is a man who moved to a foreign country and now quietly makes his living doing something that requires few words: shooting people. Of course, it’s very important to stress that UK-based Dutch transplant Corbijn uses a camera rather than a gun: after becoming one of the most celebrated photographers in the world, Corbijn transitioned to directing films in 2007 with Control, his Cannes award-winning biopic of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. The American is his second feature.

Anton Corbijn, A Member of the Band

When Corbijn left Holland for England in the 1970s, music was the inspiration for his moody, black-and-white images, so it’s not surprising that he quickly became one of the most in-demand photographers of rock musicians. He is famous for the ongoing creative relationships he has built up with bands like Depeche Mode and U2, both of whom he has been working with since the 1980s. U2’s lead singer, Bono, once said, “There are certain points where I felt Anton was in our band, an outsider who had become an insider.” (Amusingly, Corbijn confessed to Time magazine that he initially began taking photos at gigs “purely to get close to the musicians without looking like an idiot.”)

Anton Corbijn, Beyond the Music

While Corbijn is probably best known for his photographs of musicians, Corbijn has also shot figures as diverse as Martin Scorsese, William S. Burroughs, Kate Moss, Takeshi Kitano, Salman Rushdie and Clint Eastwood, while in his 2002 book A. Somebody made himself the subject of his photos. He also has released 15 books over the course of his career – often in tandem with a gallery exhibit – while the best of his moving images (pop promos, commercials, etc.) were collected together in The Work Of Director Anton Corbijn by Palm Pictures, as part of their prestigious Directors Label series.

Anton Corbijn, A Man in Control

When Corbijn chose to make his directorial debut with Control, it was very fitting given that it was Joy Division’s music that initially inspired him to pursue a career as a photographer in the U.K. In an interview with Filmmaker magazine, he talked about his surprise at the massive positive response this very personal film received: “To be asked to open the [Directors’ Fortnight] at Cannes was amazing and then to get the reaction [the film] did was unexpected for me. I had no idea that film was such a massive industry. When you walk in Cannes... in photography that does not exist, let’s put it that way! So that really overpowered me, and it’s just been beautiful. You make the film you want to make, so you love what you’re doing, and when you send it out into the world you’re just lucky that people want to see it and react as well as they do.”

Anton Corbijn, Truly Blessed

Corbijn, who previously maintained an online diary on his personal website, has been writing on the Focus Features site about the experience of making The American. Next to this photo, he writes: “People sometimes ask me when hearing I make movies whether "I feel blessed" and this photograph (taken with my camera by our set photographer Giles Keyte) seems to suggest a positive answer. Sure I feel blessed but it looks like I need all the help I can get. Paolo Bonacelli is the man on the left, helping me out on his lunch break. I am the guy on the right trying to get some help. I think it is working.”


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