Camerimage: Cinematographers Michael Chapman, Allen Daviau Remembered

Ad Blocker Detected

Our website is made possible by displaying online advertisements to our visitors. Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker.

Acclaimed cinematographers and ASC members Michael Chapman and Allen Daviau, who both died last year, were the focus of a legacy panel at EnergaCamerimage Film Festival on Monday, led by the likes of Lawrence Sher (“Joker”), Xavier Pérez Grobet (“Watchmen”), Amy Vincent (‘Footloose”) and Seamus McGarvey (“Atonement”).

Nominated for five Oscars for his work on “Bugsy,” “Avalon,” “Empire of the Sun,” “The Color Purple” and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” Daviau won the ASC Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007, but he was remembered also for his aversion to cars. 

“I would follow him around in a supermarket, not to see what he was buying, but hoping to say hello. Then I acquired the responsibility of driving him to a whole bunch of different events,” said Vincent. “There are not many of us who did not have the experience of driving him, sometimes conveniently and sometimes not.”

Recognized for his collaborations with Steven Spielberg, Daviau had to wait 14 years to reunite with the director after shooting his short “Amblin’” in 1968. 

“It’s like that Kevin Bacon movie ‘The Big Picture.’ The director becomes a bigwig and the cinematographer is his best friend, but then he goes: ‘Listen man, I fought for you but the studio wants someone else.’ And mentions some complicated Czech name,” joked Sher, showing the clips of “E.T.,” which brought them together. 

Akosua Busia and Desreta Jackson in “The Color Purple”
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

“They created a Marvel movie of its time and yet Daviau’s work with Spielberg was always pushing the boundaries of artistry. It’s a reminder that these two things can coexist.” 

The cinematographers also took a look at the clips from “Empire of the Sun,” complementing its scope.

“It’s insane. All these extras, everything is real. You can feel that,” noted Pérez Grobet, calling Daviau “the master of silhouettes,” as proven also by “Bugsy.” 

“I am afraid that this very image was wholeheartedly robbed for ‘Atonement,’ ” admitted McGarvey, referring to the scene when Annette Bening’s Virginia visits Bugsy, played by Warren Beatty. “This sequence is a sort of meta use of cinema itself. You are dissecting the mechanics of the camera, projection, light and shadow. The very essence of what we love about cinema is depicted so poetically.”

“They ended up marrying after this and are still married today. I feel like it was Allen’s responsibility,” added Sher. “That close-up, when the door opens? Of course you are going to marry that person. We talk about how photography can add to the emotion of the scene. Here, photography is the emotion.” 

Two-time Oscar nominee Chapman, another recipient of the ASC Lifetime Achievement Award, operated on “Jaws” and “The Godfather.” Later, he became well-known thanks to “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull.” 

“I saw it again just before he died, although many people think I studied it every day on the ‘Joker’ set. It was influential in ways I haven’t even realized. He had such an impact on my life,” said Sher. 

“His work represented what New York was and it will forever be a part of my filmmaking language. I think that ‘Taxi Driver’ is the greatest film Scorsese has ever made and Chapman sort of agreed. It shows this moment before you become a product of your own reputation. Before Scorsese was Scorsese and Chapman was Chapman.”

Later, Chapman would score another masterpiece with “Raging Bull,” even though studio executives called its protagonist “a cockroach.”

“It becomes transcendent when a beautiful image is portraying something so harsh,” noted Vincent, praising the contrast between the “exquisite, silvery black and white cinematography” and extremely violent scenes. 

“You can have the brutality of this man, beating his head against the wall, but because it’s in the shadows you can almost live through the pain,” added Sher. “Every day at this festival I watch something and go: ‘Goddamn, I should have stolen that!’ I want to go back and reshoot the things I shot last week.”