When filmmaker Sir Alan Parker passed away last Friday at the age of 76, there were commemorations from the likes of Peter Gabriel and Madonna. What made Parker so iconic as a director was not only the versatility of his 40-year film career but his conducting of the screen for soundtrack. In remembrance of Parker’s great talent, Prof Justin Macgregor and Prof Denis Murphy of the Trinity film department offer The University Times their top recommendations.
Bugsy Malone (1976)
This Hollywood musical – which parodies a Prohibition-era gangster flick with an all-kid cast – was Parker’s first feature film. “[It was] a ludicrous idea that really ought not to work” Parker told the Guardian in 2013. Nevertheless, the film went on to win fifteen Golden Globe nominations, an Oscar and the Golden Palm at Cannes. Macgregor says Paul Williams’ score, coinciding with custard pie massacres, makes this “probably the weirdest film ever released by Paramount”.
Pink Floyd – The Wall (1982)
Now a well-known director, Parker teamed up with satirical artist Gerald Scarfe and songwriter Roger Waters to create a dramatisation of Pink Floyd’s album. This epic bildungsroman stars Bob Geldof as Pink: a fatherless boy turned rockstar who becomes an eyebrowless totalitarian.
Without dialogue, the album is the narrator and Scarfe’s surrealist animation cuts in and out. In his press notes accompanying the release, Parker said he should “never have made The Wall”, describing it as “too miserable an exercise” partly because he “fell out in a big way” with Scarfe and Waters. “I had become so combative over the years” he reflected in an interview with the Observer in 2017, particularly “fighting…with money men”.
Yet, Macgregor describes this as his favourite of Parker’s films and “even more relevant today than when it was released”: “It is a harrowing story of fame… and the kind of fascism that can come with a cult of personality.”
The Commitments (1991)
With dramas like Angela’s Ashes, Macgregor says, Parker “showed how well he could tell complex, challenging and deeply moving stories”. However, he adds, Parker was at his best when he combined drama with music “as with The Commitments”.
The feel-good comedy-drama, based on a Roddy Doyle novel, accounts a young Dubliner that assembles a group of amateur musicians to form a soul band. The film won an Academy award and four Baftas. Murphy in particular notes that “Parker’s films always have a strong sense of place” evident in the film’s representation of Dublin. If you’re missing Dublin, The Commitments might be your best bet.
Some of Murphy and Macgregor’s honorary mentions include Angel Heart (1987) which Murphy describes as a “particularly atmospheric and visually ambitious thriller”, as well as Mississippi Burning (1988).
Having been a fundamental figure in the industry – chair of the British Film Institute in 1998 and founding chair of the (now dispersed) UK film council, Parker eventually gave up filmmaking for painting. In 2017, the revered director told the Observer: “Since I’ve concentrated on painting full time, the last three years have been the most enjoyable of my life.” A suitable end for a man who gave so much to Irish film.