Michael Chapman, the two-time Oscar nominee who shot Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and The Last Waltz for Martin Scorsese, Invasion of the Body Snatchers for Philip Kaufman and The Fugitive for Andrew Davis, has died. He was 84.
Chapman’s death was announced on Twitter by his wife of 40 years, screenwriter Amy Holden Jones (Mystic Pizza, Beethoven, Indecent Proposal). He died Sunday of congestive heart failure at home in Los Angeles, son Andrew Chapman said.
Michael Chapman also was the DP on several films with a lighter tone, including Carl Reiner’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), Scrooged (1988), Ghostbusters II (1989), Kindergarten Cop (1990), Doc Hollywood (1991) and Space Jam (1996).
He was known for his swooping camera movement and gritty, urban lighting, and his work illuminating New York City on Taxi Driver (1976) earned him the nickname “The Poet of the Sidewalks.”
Mentored by famed cinematographer Gordon Willis, Chapman received his Oscar noms for Raging Bull (1980) and The Fugitive (1993). He received a lifetime achievement award from the American Society of Cinematographers in 2004.
Goodbye to the love of my life. Michael Chapman Sept 20 2020 https://t.co/rkhyjGjkMd
— Amy Holden Jones (@aholdenj) September 21, 2020
Born in New York City on Nov. 21, 1935, Chapman was raised in Wellesley, Massachusetts. He attended high school at the Andover Academy and then Columbia University.
After college, Chapman worked on the Erie Lackawanna Railroad as a brakeman before being given his first job as a camera assistant by his father-in-law, French-born cinematographer Jo Brun. They two traveled the world together for many years, shooting commercials, documentaries and features including The Fat Spy (1966), which starred Phyllis Diller and Jayne Mansfield.
As a camera operator, he worked on such dramas as Irvin Kershner’s Loving (1970), Hal Ashby’s The Landlord (1970), Alan J. Pakula’s Klute (1971), Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) and Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975). (Willis was the cinematographer on The Landlord, Klute and The Godfather.)
Chapman made his DP debut on Ashby’s The Last Detail (1973), then followed by shooting Martin Ritt’s The Front (1976) and James Toback’s Fingers (1978).
On Raging Bull, Chapman used a handheld camera to shoot much of the black-and-white movie and strapped cameras to actors to capture several boxing sequences. For The Last Waltz documentary, he employed as many as 10 cameras to photograph The Band and their famous guest artists.
In 1987, he and Scorsese collaborated once more on the 18-minute music video for Michael Jackson’s “Bad.”
Chapman’s résumé also included The Wanderers (1979), Personal Best (1982), The Lost Boys (1987), Rising Sun (1993), Primal Fear (1996) and Bridge to Terabithia (2007), his final credit. After retiring, he taught at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem.
He directed one major feature during his career — All the Right Moves (1983), starring Tom Cruise — and occasionally made cameos in the films that he shot.
He received the Camerimage Festival’s prestigious Golden Frog award for cinematography in 2016.
Survivors also include his children with Jones, Emma and Patrick; son Jonathan, who like Andrew he had with his first wife, Myriam; and four granddaughters.
Donations can be made in his memory to the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation.