Starting his working life as a copywriter and director in advertising for over a decade, British auteur Alan Parker (b. 1944), while not the most subtle of directors to work in the industry, has created some of the most indelible, emotionally unsentimental and truthful of films over the past half century.
Breaking onto the cinematic landscape with the startling, unique debut film that was “Bugsy Malone” (1976), a musical/gangster film with one hell of a twist to it, Parker has gone on to make films such as “Midnight Express” (1978), “Angel Heart” (1987) and “The Commitments” (1990).
While a common theme through Parker’s work has been music, he has proven himself adept at working within many genres across the cinematic field. What does strike the viewer in a number of his films is his ‘outsider looking in’ persona, particularly his films set in America. Being a Brit, he was able to take an unflinching look at America, similar in feel and vibe to some of his fellow British directors such as John Schlesinger and Nicolas Roeg.
Having not directed a film since 2003’s “The Life Of David Gale”, it’s a shame that Parker has become a somewhat forgotten commodity.
Here are thirteen films from the Alan Parker back catalogue that are very much worth your time.
13. Come See The Paradise (1990)
While somewhat haphazard in its scrip, this still remains a penetrating look at a less than positive chapter of American history during World War II. A somewhat ‘Romeo & Juliet’ story transposed to WWII, Dennis Quaid plays an American soldier who falls in love with a Japanese girl in America just as the internment camps for Japanese nationals are set up in America.
While “Come See The Paradise” is beautifully shot on a big budget, it feels somewhat hollow on an emotional level. Something of a rare misfire for Alan Parker.
12. Angela’s Ashes (1999)
A lacerating and unsparing depiction of an impoverished and poor childhood, “Angela’s Ashes” is based on the autobiography of author Frank Mc Court.
While it does an honourable job of showing humour and good grace in the face of adversity, “Angela’s Ashes” suffers somewhat from being a one-note kind of story. ‘We was poor’. Okay, after nearly two and a half hours, we’ve got the message.
On more positive notes, the film depicts an all too real world that, as viewers, more than one of us would have experienced in their lives. It also features two wonderful performances from Robert Carlysle and, in particular, Emily Watson, one of the greatest British actresses of the past twenty years.
A powerful and gut wrenching work.
11. Bugsy Malone (1976)
Once in a while, a debut film from a new director comes along that is a true original, utterly unique and totally one out of the box. Probably the most famous example of this is David Lynch’s stunning opening cinematic salvo, the 1977 film “Eraserhead”. One could quite happily add Alan Parker’s “Bugsy Malone” to that select list.
This is a musical/gangster film, but not as you quite know it. All of the main roles are played by child actors, the most famous of which in the cast are Scott Baio and Jodie Foster. Another gimmick it had up its sleeve were tommy guns that shot cream instead of bullets. Pies were also popular weapons of choice.
Made in a time before ‘political correctness’ became the norm, this was a highly creative take on the gangster film, gleefully turning clichés and genre tropes inside out.
Made by Parker, in his words, ‘for pragmatic reasons’ to try and appeal to two completely different age groups and audiences, “Bugsy Malone” still has a gleeful energy and charm to it. Considering some of the darker material Parker would address in his later work, this is one of his more upbeat and positive works.
10. Birdy (1984)
In something of a change of pace after “Pink Floyd: The Wall”, Parker directed this beautifully observed drama about two high school friends, Al (Nicholas Cage) and Birdy (Matthew Modine).
The film follows, via flashback, their high school years in Sixties America before they are both sent off to the Vietnam War.
Eloquent about the damage of war upon the young, “Birdy” is an elegant and haunting work. Ever a man with his musical ear to the ground, Parker brilliantly uses a score from one-time Genesis main man Peter Gabriel to compelling effect.
An underrated comedy-drama, “Birdy” is a film well worth finding.
9. Evita (1996)
The long-awaited screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd-Webber stage musical, this saw Parker with a massive budget, thousands of extras at his disposal and all guns blazing in regards to his visual style.
The biography of B-grade actress Eva Durate, who became the First Lady Of Argentina after marrying Juan Peron, Parker brings that same toughness and complete lack of sentimentality that made films like “The Commitments” and “Fame” work so well.
While a limited actress at the best of times, Madonna is particularly well cast in the title role, one that she seems to have been born to play.
While not without its misjudged moments, on the whole, “Evita” proves to be something of a massive surprise.
8. The Commitments (1991)
Parker bounced back in a big way with this lively, spirited film about music, set in Dublin, Ireland.
Sick of dealing with unemployment and the general aimlessness of life, a group of teenagers decide to form a band. What is so great about “The Commitments” is that, like the director’s previous film “Fame” (1980), it captures that vitality and energy of what it’s like to be young.
It also features a killer soundtrack of cover versions of great soul music standards such as “The Dark End Of The Street”, “Show Me”, “Mustang Sally” and what became a big hit on the charts, star Andrew Strong’s version of the brilliant Otis Redding track “Try A Little Tenderness”.
While it’s not a film that’s ever in danger of changing the world, “The Commitments” has personality and charm to burn.