Updated: Aug 2, 2020
By now you've no doubt heard the terrible news of Sir Alan Parker's passing this morning after a lengthy illness. It comes as a great shock to us here at UK Film Review, and we take no joy in reporting this news. In memory of one of the great Directors of British cinema, we take a look at Sir Alan Parker's varied and exceptional career.
SIR ALAN PARKER CBE
Film director, writer, and producer, Alan Parker is one of the UK’s most acclaimed and successful filmmakers. His feature films have won 19 BAFTA awards, ten Golden Globes and ten Oscars® and his body of work encompasses an extraordinary run of evergreen modern ‘classics’ including Bugsy Malone, Midnight Express, Mississippi Burning, The Commitments, Evita, Fame, Birdy, Angel Heart and Angela’s Ashes.
Parker was also a passionate supporter of the UK film industry and a founding member of the Directors Guild of Great Britain. He was always characteristically forthright about both the importance of supporting creative talent and the need for the British industry to get the recognition and backing it deserved from the government - both as an art form and as an industrial force. He argued fearlessly for the removal of any and all barriers to film industry growth whilst at the same time remaining a staunch advocate for government film subsidy to support filmmakers whose work required a level of creative risk that the commercial sector was unable to support.
As the founding Chairman of the UK Film Council in 2000, (a position he held for five years), Parker implemented a vision to put the UK film industry on a new road to creative and commercial success. Prior to that, he was Chairman of the BFI. Sir Alan received the CBE in 1995 and a knighthood in 2002. He was also an Officier des Arts et Letters (France).
Parker was also generous in sharing his time, knowledge and experience with young and developing film talent. He was a long-time supporter of the National Film and Television School, and in later years he taught there occasionally as well as at other film schools around the world.
In recent years, after retiring from the industry, Parker renewed his artistic passion with silk screen printing and painting.
Alan Parker was born in Islington, London, February 14, 1944. He began his career in advertising as a copywriter but quickly graduated to writing and directing commercials. By the late 1960s he was one of the small, but hugely influential, group of British directors (including Ridley Scott and Hugh Hudson and Adrian Lyne) who revolutionised the look, quality and reputation of TV advertising by combining sophisticated, witty storytelling with cinema aesthetics for the first time. In 1980 he received the D&AD Gold President’s Award.
In 1974, Parker moved into long-form drama when he directed the BBC film, The Evacuees, written by Jack Rosenthal, which won the International Emmy Award and a BAFTA award for direction; the first of Parker’s seven BAFTA awards.
Parker wrote and directed his first feature film, Bugsy Malone, in 1975, a unique musical pastiche of Hollywood gangster films of the 1930s with a cast comprised entirely of children. The film received eight BAFTA film nominations and five awards. The film was produced by Alan Marshall and co-executive produced by David Puttnam, (both of whom had started their careers with Parker in advertising).
Parker’s second film was the hugely successful and controversial Midnight Express (1977) which won two Oscars® and six Academy Award nominations, including for Parker as Best Director. The film received six Golden Globe Awards and four BAFTA awards.
This was followed, in 1979, by Fame, a joyful and diverse celebration of youthful ambition in the arts, which won two Academy Awards®, six nominations, four Golden Globe nominations and was subsequently adapted into a long-running television series.
In 1981 Parker directed the powerful family drama, Shoot the Moon, starring Diane Keaton and Albert Finney. That same year he also directed the seminal Pink Floyd – The Wall, the feature film adaptation of the phenomenally successful rock album, which has become a classic of the rock-opera film genre.
In 1984, Parker directed Birdy based on the William Wharton novel, starring Nicolas Cage and Matthew Modine, which won the Grand Prix Special Du Jury at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival.
Parker’s next film, the occult thriller Angel Heart, made in 1986 and starring Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro and Lisa Bonet, opened in the US amidst a storm of controversy caused by the ‘X’ rating imposed on the film by the MPAA.
In 1988 Parker directed the civil rights drama, Mississippi Burning, starring Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards® including Best Director for Parker and winning for Best Cinematography. Parker was also awarded the D.W. Griffith Award for directing by the National Board of Review. The film was nominated for five BAFTA film awards, winning three. It also won the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.
In 1989 Parker wrote and directed Come See the Paradise, a moving family story about the treatment of forcibly interned Japanese-Americans during World War II, starring Dennis Quaid and Tamlyn Tomita.
In 1990 Parker directed The Commitments, the story of a young, Irish, working-class soul band, which was awarded a Golden Globe Nomination for Best Picture and won Parker the Best Director prize at the Tokyo Film Festival, as well as BAFTA film awards for Editing, Screenplay, Director and Best Picture.
In 1993, Parker wrote and directed comedy-drama, The Road to Wellville, based on the novel by T. Coraghessan Boyle, and starring Anthony Hopkins, Bridget Fonda, Matthew Broderick, John Cusack and Dana Carvey.
In 1996, Parker directed, wrote and produced Evita, based on the stage musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, and starring Madonna, Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Pryce. The film won three Golden Globe Awards, including Best Picture.
In 1999 Parker wrote and directed Angela’s Ashes based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning, best-selling memoir by Frank McCourt, starring Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle. Parker’s final film was The Life of David Gale, the 2003 thriller about the cruel politics of capital punishment in the US, starring Kate Winslet, Kevin Spacey and Laura Linney.
Alongside his movie career Parker also proved highly adept at working across other art forms:
In 1984, to celebrate ‘British Film Year’, Parker was commissioned by ITV to make a personal documentary feature about the industry he loved. The ensuing film, A Turnip Head’s Guide To The British Cinema, underlined Parker’s credentials as an outspoken champion of British cinema. The film was a big success for ITV when it was broadcast and it annoyed the British film establishment tremendously. Subsequently, the film went on to win the British Press Guild Award for the year’s best TV documentary.
Parker was also the author of the best-selling novel written from his own screenplay of Bugsy Malone, published by HarperCollins. In addition, he wrote two other published novels, Puddles In The Lane, (1977) and The Sucker’s Kiss (2003). He was also renowned as the film industry’s own cartoonist with a satirical and biting, wit. Three collections of his cartoons have been published: Hares in the Gate, (1982), Making Movies, (1998) and Will Write and Direct for Food, (2005), a compendium of 20 years of observations on making films in Britain and in Hollywood.
In 1984 Parker was honoured by the British Academy with the prestigious Michael Balcon Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Cinema.
In 1998 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Directors Guild of Great Britain and the Lumiere Medal from the Royal Photographic Society.
Parker has also received Lifetime Achievement awards in Chicago, Munich, Prague, Warsaw and Lodz. He holds honorary doctorates from Sunderland University, the University of East Anglia, Southampton Solent University and University Council of Arts, Spain.
In January 1998, Parker was appointed Chairman of the Board of Governors of the British Film Institute and in August 1999 he was appointed first Chairman of the UK Film Council; a position he held for five years.
In November 1995 Parker was awarded a CBE by HM The Queen for services to the British film industry and he received his knighthood in 2002. He was also made Officier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government.
He was awarded the 2013 BAFTA Fellowship.
The same year he succeeded István Szabó as President of the European Federation of Film Directors: FERA.
In 2018 Parker donated his significant private archive of scripts and working papers to the BFI National Archive.
Alan Parker passed away on 31 July 2020 after a lengthy illness.
He is survived by his wife Lisa Moran-Parker, his children Lucy, Alexander, Jake, Nathan and Henry, and seven grandchildren.
INDUSTRY TRIBUTES TO SIR ALAN PARKER WHO DIED IN LONDON TODAY, AGED 76
Lord David Puttnam
“Alan was my oldest and closest friend ̶ I was always in awe of his talent. My life and those of many others who loved and respected him will never be the same again.”
Barbara Broccoli, EON Productions
“I am heartbroken at the news of Sir Alan Parker’s passing. It is an enormous loss to the world of cinema and a huge personal loss to his devoted family and friends who loved and admired him. His work always exhibited the elements of his personality that we so cherished; integrity, humanity, humour and irreverence and rebellion, and most certainly entertainment He exhibited a curiosity that enabled his versatility from musicals such as Bugsy Malone, Fame and Pink Floyd - The Wall and to films about social justice such as Midnight Express, Mississippi Burning and The Life of David Gale;, he never made the same film twice. His love of cinema as an art form began in his early childhood at the Carlton House cinema in Islington where he would “escape and dream "and remained with him throughout his career.
“He never forgot his roots and made a commitment through his work with the BFI and the UK Film Council to champion the education and accessibility of the film industry to all young people. In 2001 he founded First Light and asked me to become its chair that organisation has now developed into INTO FILM and continues to promote his ambition of film for all children and it will continue to spread his legacy.”
BFI Chair Josh Berger CBE
“We are all mourning a true giant of British cinema. Alan Parker pushed back the boundaries and dared us to see films in a different light. His early writing career in advertising set him up perfectly to become the great storyteller he was, and with each new film, he challenged those around him to make it the best. He had this unique ability to enthral audiences with a brilliant treat every time. He really was one of the best. When I spoke to him last year to give him the news that we were bestowing him with a BFI Fellowship at a big event when he got better, he told me of the special place he held for the BFI. Well, we have a very special place for Alan Parker too and we will proudly celebrate his legacy and work.”
Ben Roberts, BFI Chief Executive
“Alan Parker was one of a kind. The brilliance of his filmmaking speaks for itself and for all time. Beautiful and breathtaking films, some that are charged for justice, others which are revealing through their intimacy, hope, and humour, part of the canon of great British films that continue to be loved by audiences all over the world. His Chairmanship of the BFI, his support for our National Archive and for championing British filmmaking is also an important part of his legacy for our industry, our film culture and for the filmmakers who have been and will be inspired by his work.”
Dexter Fletcher (Director, Rocketman, Eddie the Eagle, Sunshine on Leith)
"Sir Alan inadvertently changed my life at the age of 9 when he stuck me at the end of a line of 30 kids, passing a baseball bat, all whilst saying ‘Give this to Babyface’. He told me to say something different on every take (In the one he used, I said ‘I am Babyface!’) He generously made each moment unique and fun and it’s something I endeavour to do as a director, with child and adult actors, to this day. I’m extremely proud that people still recognise me from Bugsy Malone 45 years later. It’s a testament to the pure joy of Sir Alan’s first film.
"Sir Alan was a maverick from the outset and his films and his vision were never compromised. As anyone who worked closely with him will tell you. He was one of the great, diverse, eclectic and original British film makes of his generation and my personal directing hero. His support, friendship and encouragement over the years helped the BFI, I and many others achieve wonderful things. The world was a richer place with him in. I urge everyone to watch all his films, in chronological order. Because not only are they all so different and brilliant but you’ll also see what a magical talent and person he was. Sir Alan Parker gave everything to me. And I thank and love him for it.