Hardcore” (1979)
It goes without saying that one has to be ready to go to some nasty places if they’re going to be working on a Paul Schrader movie. And few films in this man’s filmography are nastier than “Hardcore,” a blistering psychodrama about a repressed Calvinist who journeys from Grand Rapids, Michigan to late-’70s Los Angeles, where he fears his daughter may have disappeared into the cesspool of the city’s pornographic underbelly. What really catches one’s eye about Chapman’s compositions in “Hardcore” is the startling contrast between the intentionally lusterless scenes set in the suburban Midwest and the sweltering, lurid, dangerous ambiance with which Chapman captures the lesser-seen bowels of the City of Angels. Whereas some of Chapman’s other forays to the dark side were tempered with flourishes of poetry, “Hardcore” is unremitting in its squalor, and one must give credit to both Schrader and his cinematographer for refusing to gloss this material up one iota. There is undeniably still some controversy over the ending (we all know producer John Milius isn’t a fan of the movie) and the film’s hysterical, borderline-moralistic approach to sex work hasn’t exactly aged well, but “Hardcore” remains a potent and troubling document of its time, one that Chapman captures in all its blemished ignominy. – NL

Raging Bull” (1980)
With “Raging Bull,” Chapman one-ups his opening shot from “Taxi Driver” and gives us yet another totemic sequence of images upon which to begin a near-perfect motion picture: the movie’s central prizefighter, Jake La Motta (Robert Deniro), shadowboxing in hypnotic slow-motion as the deceptively dulcet notes of “Intermezzo” by Pietro Mascagni swell on the soundtrack. In spite of the quite obvious fact that La Motta is a noxious brute who gets paid big bucks to pummel the snot out of other men, this early image in “Raging Bull” is something close to divine. Thanks to Chapman, it almost feels holy. It’s also worth making note of the distinction between the earthy, pungent, Italian neo-realism-inspired visual patina of the domestic scenes between La Motta, his underage lover Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), and his loudmouthed brother Joey (Joe Pesci), and the actual boxing sequences, which are shot in such a hyper-visceral, expressionist style that after a while, you start to feel like you’re in the ring with the fighters. Scorsese recently called Chapman a “poet of the streets” and asserted that the cinematographer was largely the one to thank for the trailblazing visual language of films like “Taxi Driver” and “The Last Waltz.” In “Raging Bull,” Chapman accomplished something few in his profession are able to achieve in their lifetime: he transformed a visual medium into something more akin to poetry. – NL

Michael Jackson: Bad” (1987)
No matter how you feel about Michael Jackson in 2020 – and after last year’s wrenching HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland,” there’s no way to not feel appalled and disgusted at many of the things that the lauded-then-disgraced pop singer has been accused of – it’s difficult to deny that the man was responsible for some of the most iconic music videos of all time. Jackson liked to treat music video concepts as springboards for feature film ideas, and the video for his 1987 pop smash “Bad” is one of the all-time greats. It’s also a mind-boggling assemblage of behind-the-camera talent: direction from none other than Martin Scorsese, a script by renowned crime novelist Richard Price (“The Night Of,” “Clockers”), and dazzling cinematography from Michael Chapman that captured familiar New York sensations – the sweaty claustrophobia of a long subway ride, getting razzed by your friends (keep your eyes peeled at this moment for a cameo from a young Wesley Snipes) on the steps in front of your walk-up – with a credible sense of realism. Chapman is in tune with the rhythms of his collaborators here, resulting in an inspired, live-wire “West Side Story” homage that most folks will probably recognize even if they haven’t seen the video itself. Separating the art from the artist is an especially difficult task when it comes to a problematic public figure like Michael Jackson, but the artistry of the “Bad” video is undeniable, and without Chapman, it just wouldn’t be the same. – NL

The Fugitive” (1993)
There was a period in the ’90s when Harrison Ford was a sort of go-to guy for loud, entertaining, middlebrow action spectacles… you know, the kind your dad may or may not own on Laserdisc. Some of these movies are great, in their own special, boneheaded way (“Air Force One”), others, less so (Philip Noyce’sPatriot Games”). “The Fugitive,” however, is its own thing entirely: it’s nothing less than transcendent, and absolutely one of the more rewatchable action movies of that decade. Chapman was actually brought onto the project about a week or so into principal photography after the previous hire was fired. Although he allegedly didn’t get along with Andrew Davis, Chapman credited his director with capturing “the feeling” of Chicago, the film’s primary location (indeed, “The Fugitive,” among other things, an absolutely essential Chicago Movie). It’s hard to dispute that “The Fugitive” is one of Chapman’s more commercial career plays, and yet he’s a big part of why the action sequences in the movie hit with as much impact as they do. The late cinematographer claims to have taken the gig primarily because it was a good payday, and yet the movie’s deft use of handheld camerawork and natural lighting in otherwise busy action sequences lends the proceedings an elegiac quality that may not have been possible without Chapman’s involvement. – NL

Honorable Mention:
Michael Chapman was a versatile and brilliant artist who worked in a wide variety of genres over the course of his long and astonishing career. If you count yourself as a fan of the late Joel Schumacher’sThe Lost Boys”… well, Chapman is arguably the major, overriding reason that that vampire cult classic looks as great as it does. Chapman also dipped his toes into studio comedies in the ’80s and ’90s: he shot a pair of laffers for the great Carl Reiner, the noir send-up “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” and the truly daffy “The Man With Two Brains,” as well as the underrated, Bill Murray-starring holiday fantasia “Scrooged” and everybody’s favorite PG-13 rated Arnold Schwarzenegger film, “Kindergarten Cop.”

Chapman also shot Ivan Reitman’sGhostbusters II,” which we would argue is a more bizarre and visually ambitious movie than its predecessor. He would go on to shoot a number of films for Reitman, including the Harrison Ford and Anne Heche-starring romantic adventure “Six Days, Seven Nights,” and 2001’s otherwise forgettable, splattery sci-fi lark, “Evolution.” 

Chapman was also behind the camera for the original “Space Jam,” (yes, you read that correctly), the gripping legal thriller “Primal Fear,” David Duchovony’s coming-of-age tale “House of D,” and too many others to mention. He was, by all accounts, a decent and loyal man, one who chose to work with many of the same directors repeatedly; he even reunited with his “Body Snatchers” director Philip Kaufman later on down the line for both “The Wanderers” and “Rising Sun.” For what it’s worth, it should also be mentioned that Chapman directed the Tom Cruise-starring sports drama “All The Right Moves,” and also the John Sayles-penned historical adventure, “Clan of the Cave Bear.”

Rest in Peace, Michael Chapman. You were a giant in your field, and you may be gone, but you will not be forgotten.