Michael Chapman, ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Raging Bull’ Cinematographer, Dies at 84


Cinematographer and director Michael Chapman, known for his distinctive camera work on Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull” and “The Last Waltz,” died Sunday of congestive heart failure. He was 84.

His spouse, screenwriter and film director Amy Holden Jones Facebook page confirmed the news of his death, writing: “Michael Chapman ASC, love of my entire adult life, has passed. Until we meet again.” 

He was nominated for two Oscars for best cinematography, for “Raging Bull” — with its gritty black and white photography — and “The Fugitive.” After shooting “Taxi Driver,” he was called “the poet of the sidewalks,” but was known to his crew as “Chappy.”

Chapman was mentored by Gordon Willis, for whom he served as camera operator on Hal Ashby’s “The Landlord” as well as on “The Godfather,” “Up the Sandbox” and “Klute.” Ashby then hired him as cinematographer on “The Last Detail,” starring Jack Nicholson, before he was hired by Scorsese for “Taxi Driver” in 1975.

After moving to Los Angeles, his work included the 1978 “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” “Space Jam,” Kindergarten Cop,” “The Lost Boys” and “Ghostbusters II.”

He also ventured into directing in the 1980s with “Clan of the Cave Bear” and “All the Right Moves,” starring a young Tom Cruise.

The cinematographer was born on Nov. 21, 1935 in Wellesley, Mass. and attended Columbia U. Chapman entered film work through his father-in-law, Oscar-nominated French American cinematographer Joe Brun, who didn’t want him to continue working as a freight brakeman.

He received the lifetime achievement award from the American Society of Cinematographers, of which he was a member since 1995, in 2004 and from the Camerimage International Film Festival in 2016. 

Visual splendor can be “a terrible mistake,” he told Variety upon the occasion of the Camerimage honor. “It shouldn’t be beautiful — it should be appropriate.”

Chapman retired from production after shooting his last film “The Bridge to Terabithia” and taught film at North Carolina School of the Arts.

He is survived by Jones, four children and four grandchildren. Donations may be made to www.sheriffsmeadow.org.

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