July 28, 2021

Alan Parker, director of Midnight Express and Mississippi on Fire, dies

For at least two decades, all he touched was gold. At least in terms of box office and when creating films with cult characteristics. One of them was Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982), the film that gave face and action to the British band’s self-titled album. Another was Midnight express (1978), the tape based on the real case of Bill Hayes, the young American who faced years and years in prison in a Turkish prison when he was caught with drugs at the airport. In short, the English director Alan Parker was one of the filmmakers with the most public nose and with the greatest dramatic effectiveness in the 70s and 80s, perhaps only comparable to Steven Spielberg.

According to information provided by the British Film Institute (BFI), Parker died this Friday, July 31 in the morning at the age of 76 due to a long illness. Strictly speaking, the director made just 14 feature films and had stopped filming many years ago: his latest work, The life of David Gale, It was from 2003. It starred Kevin Spacey and it wasn’t particularly successful.

Midnight Express (1978) was based on the real case of Billy Hayes (Brad Davis in the photo), imprisoned for carrying drugs in Turkey, and won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Music.

Twice nominated for an Oscar for Best Director for the aforementioned Midnight express and by Mississippi on fire (1988), Alan Parker was five times at the Cannes Film Festival and achieved his highest distinction by winning the Grand Jury Prize in 1984 for wings of Liberty, a play about two friends dealing with the trauma of the Vietnam War, starring Matthew Modine and Nicolas Cage.

The Commitments (1991), about a blues band in Ireland, once again demonstrated Alan Parker’s ability to incorporate music and performing arts into his cinema, featured in Fame (1980), Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982) and Evita (nineteen ninety six).

Music always ran easily through Parker’s veins and there he fit some of his best hits, including the aforementioned Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982), Fame (1980), The commitments (1991) and the musical Avoid (1996), a tape with Madonna that, to be fair, had more media impact than criticism.

He also skillfully handled the springs of drama and thriller, and in the 80s he delivered two of his best works in that register: Satanic heart (1987), with Robert De Niro as a modern and seductive Lucifer, and Mississippi on fire (1988), one of his best achievements, this time touching on issues such as intolerance and racism, with Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe.

Mississippi in Llamas (1988), which focused on a racial hate crime in the southern United States in the 1960s, starred Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe.

Born into a working-class family in London in 1944, Alan Parker was anything but an intellectual. He never showed interest in cinema at school and, according to himself, he entered to study advertising “to meet girls.” His agility in the dramatic handling (which his critics often called effectism) and his visual prowess were forged in the need to make quick, direct and emotional commercials.

It is the same advertising school that somehow trained several filmmakers in countries where the film industry was weak (in Chile too, until today) and that made them achieve a goldsmith’s perfectionism in their films, with all the details of the production at hand. utmost care. Perhaps in Alan Parker there was no authorial stamp in the style of what the French of the New Wave did, but he never missed skill and solvency.

That base is what he shared with several of his British contemporaries and for Alan Parker himself it meant economic gains and also awards, with awards for commercials of alcoholic beverage brands such as Heineken and Cinzano in the 60s and 70s. the book The directors (2003) by Robert J. Emery: “If I look back, I realize that I am part of a generation of filmmakers who could not have started anywhere other than commercials: at that time we simply had no film industry in the Kingdom United. Guys like Ridley Scott (Alien), Tony Scott (Top Gun), Adrian Lyne (Fatal Attraction), Hugh Hudson (Fire cars) and I owe a lot to that advertising school ”.

His handling of the trade gave him great versatility at the same time, changing from genre to genre, almost as a self-imposed goal for each new project. Examples: Your first big movie was Bugsy Malone (1976), a parody of gangster films with child actors (including Jodie Foster), which was followed by the bleak prison story Midnight express and then jump to the urban musical Fame and then make an unexpected turn to Shoot the moon (1982), a family drama with Diane Keaton and Albert Finney as separating spouses. And that still had to enter the horror in Satanic heart and the racist intrigues of Mississippi on fire. As we said at the beginning, everything or almost everything Alan Parker played was gold for the studios and quality entertainment for the public.