Update, September 22: Martin Scorsese, a frequent collaborator of Chapman’s, has issued the following statement following the cinematographer’s passing: “I consider myself so fortunate to have been able to work with Michael Chapman. Michael and I made three films together—’Taxi Driver,’ ‘The Last Waltz,’ and ‘Raging Bull,’ and he brought something rare and irreplaceable to each of them.”
Scorsese continues, “I remember when ‘Taxi Driver’ came out and Michael became known as a ‘poet of the streets’—I think that was the wording, and it seemed right to me. Michael was the one who really controlled the visual palette of ‘The Last Waltz,’ and on ‘Raging Bull’ he and his team met every single challenge—and there were so many. One of the greatest of those challenges was shooting in black and white, which Michael had never done before, a fact that still astonishes me. His relationship with the camera and the film that was running through it was intimate, mysterious, almost mystical. He was a great artist, and it saddens me that I won’t get to see him again.”
Earlier: Michael Chapman, the Academy Award-nominated cinematographer behind beloved films including “Raging Bull” and “Taxi Driver,” died September 20, with the news shared the following day. He was 84 years old.
Chapman, retired at the time of his death, was among the key below-the-line figures of the American New Wave of the 1970s, bringing his distinct eye to movies by directors such as Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, Hal Ashby, Robert Towne, and Philip Kaufman. His last credit as a cinematographer was on 2007’s “Bridge to Terabithia.”
Chapman’s many credits as a director of photography also included “The Fugitive,” for which he earned his second Best Cinematography Oscar nomination (after “Raging Bull,” in 1984), “Six Days Seven Nights,” “Primal Fear,” “Rising Sun,” “Kindergarten Cop,” “Ghostbusters II,” “The Lost Boys,” “Hardcore,” the 1978 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and “The Last Detail,” his first feature as a DP.
Before his groundbreaking work with Scorsese on “Taxi Driver” and the black-and-white, mostly handheld “Raging Bull,” Chapman also shot his musical film “The Last Waltz,” a documentary account of the final concert performed by The Band. Chapman also shot the 18-minute music video for Michael Jackson’s “Bad,” which features both black-and-white and color photography, and was directed by Scorsese with a screenplay by novelist Richard Price.
In the early 1970s, Chapman was a camera operator who worked with up-and-coming directors like John Cassavetes on “Husbands,” Alan J. Pakula on “Klute,” Francis Ford Coppola on “The Godfather,” and Steven Spielberg on “Jaws.” He apprenticed under cinematography greats like Gordon Willis and Bill Butler.
A member of the American Society of Cinematographers, Chapman also had credits as a film director, including the Peter Gabriel concert film “Live in Athens 1987,” and the features “The Clan of the Cave Bear” and “All the Right Moves,” his directorial debut that starred Tom Cruise in one of his breakout roles.
In 1975, Chapman earned a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography for Entertainment Programming for a Special for “Death Not Be Proud.” He won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Cinematography in 1981 for “Raging Bull,” and in 2003 he received the ASC’s Lifetime Achievement Award.