Alan Parker, director of such diverse hits as Midnight Express, Bugsy Malone, Fame, Angel Heart, Pink Floyd – The Wall, Mississippi Burning, and The Commitments, passed away on the 31st of July after a long illness. He was 76 years old.
Parker was a peer of Hugh Hudson, Ridley Scott and Tony Scott and producer David Puttnam, the first generation of British filmmakers who grew up after the Second World War and came up from directing commercials and went straight to movies. Parker grew up in working-class London and maintained a defiantly working-class attitude throughout his life and career. He had contempt for the navel-gazing, subsidy-supported films that Britain kept making and believed in robust, popular commercial movies that the general public wanted to see, and they could be a movie with a strong political and social agenda.
Alan Parker Had A Truly Varied Career
His movies were frequently box office hits and also major talking points. Bugsy Malone was a musical that spoofed the absurdity of gangster stories by having the entire cast made up of kids. Midnight Express (with a script by Oliver Stone) drew attention to the harsh realities of drug smuggling and the brutality of Turkish prisons. Pink Floyd – The Wall examined mental illness and the dangers of the re-emergence of fascist movements. Birdy dealt with the mental and physical injuries incurred by veterans of the war in Vietnam. Fame, underneath the now-classic songs and setpieces, portrayed the social and economic struggles of students in the performing arts. Mississippi Burning dealt with the real-life murders of civil rights workers by white supremacists in 1964. Come See the Paradise exposed the racism against Japanese-Americans in World War II. The Commitments was a celebration of Dublin working-class life as its heroes form a band to sing Motown. The Road to Wellville was a comedy satirizing cultish movements and quack diets through the prism of the 19th Century. His adaptation of the musical Evita (co-written with Oliver Stone) had more of a political edge than many expected. Angela's Ashes explored the effects of poverty on an Irish family. We could go on. He was nominated for the BAFTA, the Golden Globes and the Oscar several times and was anointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1998.
How did we forget a director like Alan Parker? His last movie, The Life of David Gale, was released in 2003, and he hadn't been active in the industry since due to ill health. As a result of the accelerated turnaround for new movies and hype, and the advent of social media and the short memories of trends, Parker's work has hardly been discussed for over ten years. Yet he has one of the most impressive bodies of work of any mainstream director working in the Hollywood and British film system. He worked in practically every existing movie genre, and many of them were hits that also made a social impact. That's an enviable career for any filmmaker. His passing marks the end of an era for a particular type of director. He was one of the last of his generation.