The two-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer behind Raging Bull and Taxi Driver passed away on 20 September aged 84. His wife Amy Holden Jones confirmed his death on social media but offered no further details.
As a key figure in the American New Wave of the 1970s, Michael Chapman brought to life visions from directors including Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, Hal Ashby and Steven Spielberg during his long career as a cinematographer, camera operator and director.
Martin Scorsese, a frequent collaborator of Chapman’s, issued the following statement on the 22 September paying tribute to the cinematographer: “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 continued: “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.”
Chapman shot the iconic Scorsese-directed 18-minute music video for Michael Jackson’s “Bad” and worked as cinematographer on a number of Best Picture nominees, including The Godfather, Jaws and The Fugitive, the latter of which earned him his second Best Cinematography Oscar nomination (after Raging Bull in 1984). His last credit as a cinematographer was on the 2007 film Bridge to Terabithia.
A 2004 recipient of the American Society of Cinematographers’ Lifetime Achievement Award, Chapman is responsible for some of the most exhilarating and memorable moments in film. From the terrifying shark attacks of Jaws to the brutal boxing action captured in Raging Bull, Chapman will certainly be remembered within the industry for his influential work.
Words by Talya Honebeek
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