7. The Life Of David Gale (2003)
Tough, brutal and, as is the Parker style, utterly uncompromising, “The Life Of David Gale” is an intelligent, beautifully written and thought provoking drama about a man against capital punishment who is accused of murdering a fellow advocate.
Told in flashback after our man character (powerful work from Kevin Spacey) has been on Death Row for six years, this is a complex work that refuses to offer any easy answers or treat it audience like a pack of five year olds.
Also featuring standout work from Kate Winslet and Laura Linney, “The Life Of David Gale” was, unfortunately, one of those films that sank without a trace at the box office and deserved a greater audience than what it got.
6. Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982)
Referred to by Parker in a less than positive manner as his “$15 Million dollar student film”, this is an all-out physical, mental and aural assault on the senses.
Based on the multi-million selling 1979 double album by Pink Floyd, it is a highly unconventional, dark, intense and disturbing take on what we know as ‘the musical.
Part live action/part animation, “Pink Floyd: The Wall” largely eschews conventional dialogue, instead choosing to tell its story from the songs of its parent album. Between the live action segments, the film cuts to the startling and highly confronting animation of director Gerard Scarfe.
Pink (Bob Geldof) is a burnt out rock star, retreating behind the mental ‘wall’ of the title. We see flashes of his early life in post-war Britain, his mistreatment at the hands of that country’s fascist education system, and the retreat into the neo-Nazi-like world of ‘the wall’.
A major controversy upon release, being labelled everything from ‘self-pitying’ and ‘pretentious’ to ‘evil’, “Pink Floyd: The Wall” redefines the term ‘not for everyone’. However, it has garnered a massive cult following over the past thirty years.
5. Midnight Express (1978)
A scorching prison drama set in Turkey, while powerfully directed and propelled by an Oscar-winning script from Oliver Stone and an iconic musical score from Giorgio Moroder (another Oscar winner), this presents a highly loaded and somewhat problematic story.
American national Billy Hays is busted for drug trafficking in Turkey, a country known for their zero tolerance towards drugs. Did Hays deserve what he copped in regards to physical abuse and degradation in the Turkish prisons? Also, the script is extremely guilty of a one-dimensional, racist and xenophobic view of the people of Turkey.
Nonetheless, as mentioned before, despite its flaws and moral issues, this is a powerfully told story and is a true showcase for Parker’s strengths, both on a visual level and also as a story teller.
4. Fame (1980)
A massive box office hit and a film that lead to a spinoff TV show, it still surprises how successful this was at the box office. Why? Namely, the film takes its title as an incredibly double edged sword.
Following the plight of a handful of students at the New York School Of Performing Arts, where “Fame”, and Parker, excel is due to the fact that this film is no glossy view of young people with stars in their eyes achieving fame and fortune.
No, in fact, the completely unsentimental attitude and approach is what makes this fly. You’ll never forget scenes as when Leroy loses his temper when asked to read and write, or when Coco is exploited and abused by a sleazy wannabe filmmaker. It is the rawness that Parker gets across to the viewer that lifts “Fame” from being a merely good film to a great one.
Also, this is where Parker displayed his life-long affinity in the cinematic world with all things to do with music. He shoots his musical numbers in a highly original and exciting style, such as the sequence where all the students spill out onto the street, all set to the film’s title track.
Parker also shows he understands contrast, illustrated by the stark one-shot on Irene Cara singing “Out Here On My Own”. Simply shot, but it totally tugs at your heart strings.
“Fame” would prove to be one of Parker’s finest achievements as a director.
3. Shoot The Moon (1982)
Alan Parker was an extremely busy man in the early part of the Eighties. “Shoot The Moon” was very quickly shot between his work on “Fame” and “Pink Floyd: The Wall”. Starring Albert Finney and Diane Keaton, this is a brutal, unsparing and utterly uncompromising look at the breakdown of a marriage.
Displaying a raw, unforced quality, this is a powerful drama that basically outstripped the 1979 Robert Benton film “Kramer Vs Kramer” on just about every level.
Showing his diversity as a director, Parker created one of the best films of his career in the form of “Shoot The Moon”. Unfortunately, it seems to have become a film that has slipped through the cracks, not being available on DVD or Blu-Ray.
Make no mistake. This is not ‘light’ viewing by any stretch of the word. However, in how it looks at marriage in crisis, it is right up there with Igmar Bergman’s “Scenes From A Marriage” (1973) and Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine” (2010) for its sheer honesty and feeling.
2. Angel Heart (1987)
Set in Louisianna in the mid-Fifties, “Angel Heart” is a brooding, intense and seedy drama that really gets under your fingernails. Mickey Rourke (at his sleaziest) plays private detective Harry Angel. He’s employed by the mysterious and enigmatic Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) to find a missing singer named Johnny Favourite. To tell you any more would be a crime!
Atmospheric and with style to burn, “Angel Heart” is a film that never fails to unnerve, shock or compel. There’s no way in Hell that Hollywood would touch this script in this current day and age in regards to where its story takes you. An absolutely essential film in Alan Parker’s back catalogue.
1. Mississippi Burning (1988)
Retreating back somewhat from the dark terrain of “Angel Heart”, Parker made something no less gritty and confronting. “Mississippi Burning” is an angry cry against the racism of the Deep South in America during the latter part of the Sixties.
Based on the true story of three murdered Civil Rights workers in Mississippi, this is a compelling and lacerating work. Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe play two FBI agents, both representative of different styles and approaches towards law enforcement.
A grueling work, this is a film that tells a story that cannot be told enough times. Full credit to Parker for not watering down the power and anger behind this story.
Author Bio: Neil is a journalist, labourer, forklift and truck driver. In a previous life, he was a projectionist for ten years. He is a lifelong student of cinema.