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Within the last four weeks, many of us have been mourning the loss of public heroes, between the shocking loss of Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. It was also announced Monday another pivotal modern figure has died – legendary cinematographer Michael Chapman. His face may not be widely known, but his contributions to cinema have certainly left a mark on film that will be examined and praised for centuries to come.
Michael Chapman's (who died at 84 on Sunday) accomplishments are most notably tied to Martin Scorsese’s work. He was the director of photography on Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, among his nearly 50 credits that also included Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Kindergarten Cop, The Fugitive, Space Jam, serving as the camera operator for Jaws, The Godfather and his last credit being the cinematographer for 2007’s Bridge to Terabithia. Scorsese paid tribute to his early collaborator with these words, per IndieWire:
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.
It’s a sweet and touching tribute to the two-time Oscar nominee, who earned Martin Scorsese one of Raging Bull’s eight nominations with Best Cinematography in 1981. Michael Chapman’s second nod by the Academy was for the 1993 Harrison Ford-led The Fugitive, which included a train crash scene that was shot in one take by him.
Check out this scene of Raging Bull that had Michael Chapman going inside the ring with actors (including that year’s Best Actor winner Robert De Niro) to get the moments on film, and in black and white:
It’s an all-time great scene that has no doubt inspired filmmakers to follow in his footsteps. Aside from Raging Bull, Michael Chapman also worked with Martin Scorsese on Michael Jackson’s 18-minute music video for Bad in 1987, which also featured Wesley Snipes, who was an unknown at the time. You can additionally check Chapman’s work on Bad here, which is still known as one of the best music videos ever:
Michael Chapman also did a little directing in his time, helming Tom Cruise’s sixth film ever in 1983, All The Right Moves. He and Martin Scorsese also worked together on The Last Waltz, a 1978 documentary showcasing the last concert of rock group The Band. Chapman will certainly be missed and not forgotten. Here at CinemaBlend, we relay our deepest sympathies and condolences to his family and loved ones.