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Parker feted for global audience appeal.

HOLLYWOOD The word "eclectic" barely begins to describe Alan Parker's filmography. His dozen feature films through more than two decades shift in mood, style and subject like a multicolored road show as he disappears for two-year intervals, only to return hawking a new cinematic elixir.

The adaptation of Frank McCourt's Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir "Angela's Ashes," starring Emily Watson for a year-end domestic release by Paramount, is the latest buzz accumulator by Parker, who has been selected for the 1999 Life Achievement Award at Cinema Expo Intl.

"In singling out the talents of Alan Parker, Cinema Expo Intl. pays tribute to a truly accomplished and respected filmmaker," says Jimmy Sunshine, co-managing director of both CEI and New York-based the Sunshine Group. "The career of Alan Parker is an extraordinary one. If you look at his body of work--`Bugsy Malone,' `Midnight Express,' `Pink Floyd--The Wall,' `Mississippi Burning,' `The Commitments' and the breathtaking `Evita,' it's clear to see that no single genre epitomizes an Alan Parker film, yet each Alan Parker film epitomizes a specific genre.

"He is one of our generation's leading directors, producers and writers and the exhibition community of the international market looks forward to paying tribute to him at this year's convention," Sunshine says.

It will be a case of showmen honoring one of their own, because as a director, Parker commands attention in a ZiegfeldCohan sort of way. Parker has staked his turf as both auteur and creator of big-audience entertainment, whether they be adaptations or originals, musicals or dramas, about racial strife or marital discord.

Sense of time and place

His films are both old-fashioned and attentive to time and place the way few films are. In fact, "Bugsy Malone" (1976), "Midnight Express" (1978), "Pink Floyd--The Wall" (1982), "Angel Heart" (1987), "Mississippi Burning" (1988), "The Road to Wellville" (1994) and "Evita" (1996) were turned out accompanied by controversy, fomenting baggage or news of bold experimentation.

Parker films--from the introspective "Shoot the Moon" (1982) to "Birdy" (1985) from the gloriously photographed Japanese-American epic (and epic financial failure) "Come See the Paradise" (1990) to the rainbow brassiness of "Fame" (1980) and the straight-to-hell noir of "Angel Heart"--are rarely faulted for being imitative, for soft-pedaling issues or for lack of commitment.

In fact, the title of perhaps his most cheerful recent film, "The Commitments" (1992), about the shenanigans and travails of a scraped-together Dublin rock band, could stand for the behind-the-scenes toil that all of these technically superb and pictorially brilliant films belie.

The portrayals of will power at war on the screen in Parker's films feel like perilous, personal commando raids, often rebellious and ribald, and obviously reflective of a coordinating boss of some fortitude and moxie.

"(He is) an intriguing case, a working-class Londoner--and proud of it," critic David Thomson writes of the helmer in "A Biographical Dictionary of Film."

The director's success at capturing the public's imagination is reflected in a notable comment that trails him--that he didn't "make films for 14 intellectuals at the Cinematheque in Paris."

Parker always has been a hotshot with no apologies. Born in 1944, he moved from high school to office gofer in advertising agencies to a copywriter associated with another ad guy, one with film industry aspirations named David Puttnam.

Parker wrote the screenplay for "Melody," a rebel teen treatise that reteamed Jack Wild and Mark Lester from "Oliver!" that was shelved but eventually released in 1971.

Commercial express

He teamed up with another advertising exec, Alan Marshall --who produced seven of the director's subsequent pictures and built a lucrative commercial-making factory.

Along with Adrian Lyne and the Scott brothers, Ridley and Tony, Parker was in the forefront of a 30-second new wave of Brit commercial makers who made a mark on feature films in the mid-1970s.

Diversification

Branching into short films, then a 1975 play for television, "The Evacuees," Parker was ready for features. His debut, "Bugsy Malone," was the all-kids spoof of Prohibition-era racketeers fronted by 13-year-old Jodie Foster as Tallulah, a saloon chanteuse.

The director next went for his first portrayal of hard-hearted brutality, "Midnight Express," based on the actual imprisonment of American Billy Hayes in a Turkish prison for drug possession.

The film garnered six Academy Award nominations, including those for best picture and best director, and won two Oscars, including one for screenwriter Oliver Stone, whose subsequent directing career and hard-driving style hasn't been too far removed from Parker's course.

When Stone walked away from making "Evita" with its embattled history and mountainous marquee heft of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical belted out by Madonna, it was Parker who accepted the challenge.

Oscar success

In all, Parker's films have won six Oscars from 25 nominations. "Mississippi Burning" also was nominated for best picture and best director, and won for Peter Biziou's cinematography. Film editor Gerry Hambling has been nominated for his work on five Parker films -- in the 1990s he was cited for "The Commitments" and "Evita."

"Mississippi Burning" is considered the director's strongest across-the-board hit with critics and audiences, in its re-creation of the civil rights-era South, and in the breadth of its strong performances, led by Gene Hackman's Oscar-nominated turn as an old-school FBI agent.

Like assessments of Stone's films or other entertainers about whom people take sides -- Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, David Mamet -- Parker's films are usually sources for strong debate.

Strong-willed critic Pauline Kael could dismiss Parker's first three films as false, then go sheepish with "Shoot the Moon," writing in the New Yorker, "I'm a little afraid to say how good I think `Shoot the Moon' is-- I don't want to set up the kind of bad magic that might cause people to say they were led to expect so much that they were disappointed."

Even if he doesn't impress the 14 brainiacs at the Cinematheque, they probably at least understand that he demands attention as one of the English-speaking cinema's central provocateurs.
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Title Annotation:Alan Parker
Author:ROBERTS, JERRY
Publication:Variety
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 21, 1999
Words:985
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