Chapman, Matthew 1950-
Chapman, Matthew 1950-
PERSONAL: Born September 2, 1950, in Cambridge, England; son of Cecil and Clare Chapman; became a United States citizen; married Victoria Tennant, 1978 (divorced, 1982), married Denise Teixeira (actress [stage name Denise Dumont], record producer, and documentary filmmaker), July 1, 1989; children: Anna Bella and (stepson) Diogo Marzo. Religion: “Skeptic/Agnostic.”
CAREER: Movie director and writer.
MEMBER: Directors Guild of America, Writers Guild of America.
AWARDS, HONORS: Sitges award for Best Film, Catalonian International Film Festival, 1989, for Heart of Midnight; Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination for Best Motion Picture Screenplay, 2004, for Runaway Jury.
(And director) Hussy, Watchgrove, 1979.
(With Blaine Novak; and director) Strangers Kiss (adapted from Blaine Novak’s story), Orion Classics, 1984.
(And director) Slow Burn (television), Joel Schumacher Productions/Universal, 1986.
(And director) Heart of Midnight, Samuel Goldwyn, 1988.
Consenting Adults, Hollywood Pictures, 1992. (With Billy Ray) Color of Night, Cinergi Pictures Entertainment, 1994.
What’s the Worst That Could Happen? (adapted from Donald Westlake’s novel of the same name), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 2001.
(With Brian Koppelman, Rick Cleveland, and David Levien) Runaway Jury (based on the novel by John Grisham), Twentieth Century-Fox, 2003.
Also author of additional dialogue and English screenplay for A Grande Arte (English title, Exposure).
Trials of the Monkey: An Accidental Memoir (nonfiction), Picador (New York, NY), 2001.
40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, Oxycontin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania, Collins (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to Harper’s magazine. Also contributing blogger to the Huffington Post blog site.
SIDELIGHTS: Matthew Chapman is a filmmaker and writer whose various works range from thrillers to comedy and from drama to autobiography. Chapman began his film career in 1979 as writer and director of Hussy, a love story about a prostitute and a nightclub worker who find their romance threatened by unstable friends and dangerous associates. Chapman followed Hussy with Strangers Kiss, a 1983 thriller—which he both wrote, with actor Blaine Novak, and directed—wherein an aspiring filmmaker discovers that life mirrors art as he attempts to obtain funding for a movie about a boxer determined to free his girlfriend, a taxi dancer, from her malicious employer. A Variety contributor noted the film’s “sense of fun and mystery.” Another work, Heart of Midnight, concerns a deranged woman who runs afoul of various fiends, including a drug-dispensing villain posing as a police officer, while trying to renovate a nightclub. The film was described in Variety as “a twisted little sadomasochistic outing.” Other films by Chapman include Consenting Adults, in which a successful advertising writer is framed for murder by a scheming neighbor, and Color of Night, wherein a psychiatrist comes to suspect one of his patients of murder. Stanley Kauffmann, writing in New Republic, decried Consenting Adults, which Alan J. Pa-kula directed from Chapman’s script, for its “howling flaws,” and Richard Schickel, in a Time review, similarly dismissed the film as “implausible.” However, Color of Night, which Richard Rush directed from a script by Chapman and Billy Ray, won praise from New Yorker critic Terrence Rafferty, calling it “lively and sneakily intelligent.”
Among Chapman’s other film credits is What’s the Worst That Could Happen?, a comedy about a professional thief who endeavors to retrieve a valuable ring taken from him by one of his supposed victims. James Berardinelli, in an appraisal on the Colossus Web site, rejected What’s the Worst That Could Happen? as “a caper comedy that replaces humor and cleverness with tedium and stupidity.” Berardinelli added that the film “has surprisingly little going for it.” However, as Chapman told CA, the final version of the script was completely different from what he had originally written. The original script “bears little resemblance to the movie, which is indeed tedious and stupid,” Chapman commented. He felt, therefore, that any criticism of the movie is not really a reflection on his work.
Chapman is also the author of Trials of the Monkey: An Accidental Memoir, in which he combines accounts of his great-great-grandfather, nineteenth-century evolutionist Charles Darwin, with considerations on the Scopes Monkey Trial (where evolutionary theory triumphed over creationism), as well as more personal reflections. Michael D. Cramer, writing in Library Journal, described Trials of the Monkey as “an odd but fascinating mix of history, science, religion, travel, and memoir,” and Steve Weinberg, in a Booklist analysis, deemed Chapman’s book “well worth reading.” Cramer noted that “the writing is excellent,” and Weinberg ended his review by declaring that “Chapman’s rapier-like wit is difficult to resist.” A Publishers Weekly contributor, meanwhile, praised Trials of the Monkey as “an honest, ironic autobiography” and “an absorbing and finely honed journal of courageous, often amusing self-awareness.” Still another critic, Tony Gould, wrote in Spectator that Trials of the Monkey constitutes a “hugely entertaining book.” Gould added: “It sets out to tell the story of the Scopes ‘Monkey’ trial of 1925… and its legacy in latter-day Dayton, Tennessee, and ends up telling the story of the author’s life: how a drop-out from a privileged but dysfunctional English family became a highly paid Hollywood scriptwriter.”
Chapman is also coscreenwriter with Brian Koppelman, Rick Cleveland, and David Levien of Runaway Jury, a film based on the novel by John Grisham. The story revolves around a courtroom case in which a woman is suing a gun manufacturer after her husband is killed at work in a shooting. The case pits an idealistic lawyer against a high-powered law team attorney, who tries to illegally influence the jurors. “With the standard Grisham formula having grown stale after so many books and film versions, ‘Jury’ introduces ingredients that add zest to the old recipe and, in cinematic terms, open up increased possibilities for intrigue and narrative layering,” wrote Todd McCarthy in Daily Variety. McCarthy also noted: “The writers and director… do a good job of dramatically shuffling… [the] cards. “Robert W. Butler, writing in the Kansas City Star, called the film “a thoroughly satisfying escapist nail-biter.”
In his second book, 40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, Oxycontin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania, Chapman reports on the a 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Board of Education trial in Dover, Pennsylvania. The case revolved around whether or not “intelligent design” (the idea that a higher power designed life) should be taught in the local public schools science classes along with the theory of evolution as first proposed by Charles Darwin. The case stemmed from eleven parents who filed suit after intelligent design was put into the school district’s curriculum. The author describes the ongoing case as well as its many participants and witnesses. He also compares the trial to the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, in which a teacher was brought to trail for teaching evolution. “The [book’s] strength… is its presentation as an old-fashioned courtroom drama, which stays lively,” noted a contributor to the Christian Century. Writing in the Library Journal, Gilles Renaud commented that the author’s “brilliant (and often hilarious) analysis of quite complex testimony, results in a valuable guide to future educational controversies.”
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Chapman, Matthew, Trials of the Monkey: An Accidental Memoir, Picador (New York, NY), 2001.
Booklist, August, 2001, Steve Weinberg, review of Trials of the Monkey, p. 2080.
Christian Century, February 6, 2007, review of 40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, Oxycontin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania, p. 43.
Daily Variety, October 13, 2003, Todd McCarthy, review of Runaway Jury, p. 6.
Day to Day, May 11, 2005, “Interview: Matthew Chapman Talks about the Theory of His Great-Great-Grandfather, Charles Darwin.”
Harper’s, April, 2006, Robert J. Muise and Ronald Osborn, “Gorilla Warfare,” letter to the editor concerning author’s article “God or Gorilla,” p. 4.
Kansas City Star, October 15, 2003, Robert W. Butler, “For ‘Runaway Jury,’ Take Premise and Run with It.”
Library Journal, September 1, 2001, Michael D. Cramer, review of Trials of the Monkey, p. 192; March 1, 2007, Gilles Renaud, review of 40 Days and 40 Nights, p. 97.
Maclean’s, July 2, 2007, “Finally, a Book about. …Creationism on Trial,” p. 55.
New Republic, November 16, 1992, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Consenting Adults, p. 28.
New Scientist, March 31 2007, Amanda Gefter, “Darwin in the Blood,” interview with author.
New Yorker, September 5, 1994, Terrence Rafferty, review of Color of Night, pp. 106-107.
New York Times, October 17, 2003, Elvis Mitchell, “Courtroom Confrontation with Lots of Star Power,” p. 25.
New York Times Book Review, January 27, 2002, Jonathon Miles, “Descent of Man: A Screenwriter and Heir of Darwin Travels to Tennessee to Revisit the Scopes Trial,” p. 23.
Philadelphia Inquirer, October 28, 2005, Amy Worden, “Naturally, He’s a Chip off the Old DNA,” profile of author.
Publishers Weekly, July 30, 2001, review of Trials of the Monkey, p. 70; February 5, 2007, Lynn Andriani, “Intelligent Design—Not Just for Book Jackets,” p. 8; February 12, 2007, review of 40 Days and 40 Nights, p. 82.
Reference & Research Book News, August, 2007, review of 40 Days and 40 Nights.
Skeptical Inquirer, May-June, 2007, Kendrick Frazier, review of 40 Days and 40 Nights, p. 62.
Spectator, November 25, 2000, Tony Gould, “Unnerved by Ancestral Voices,” pp. 54-55.
Time, October 26, 1992, Richard Schickel, review of
Consenting Adults, p. 88. Variety, September 7, 1983, review of Strangers Kiss, p. 17; May 25, 1988, review of Heart of Midnight, p. 19.
Colossus,http://movie-reviews.colossus.net/ (December 2, 2001), James Berardinelli, review of What’s the Worst That Could Happen?
Confessions of a Science Librarian Blog, http://jdupuis.blogspot.com/ (August 8, 2007), review of Trials of the Monkey.
Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/ (September 21, 2007), information on author’s film work.
Matthew Chapman Home Page,http://matthewchapman.us (August 21, 2007).
Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (November 20, 2001), Damien Cave, review of Trials of the Monkey.*