Parker burst into consciousness as a young director and screenwriter with his first film, Bugsy Malone from 1976, a UK-made crime thriller that marked his extraordinary fondness for combining musical melodies and necessarily unpleasant content. Two years later he took his first step in Hollywood with the creepy political thriller “Midnight Express” which tells the story of a young American who was arrested and abused in prison in Turkey (the theme song of the film by Giorgio Mororder is remembered as an electronic anthem from the 70s).
Parker remained in the United States to create the 1980 musical “Glory,” from which countless hits emerged, as well as the successful television series that followed the film. However, Parker’s most notable and memorable work is probably the one born two years later out of his collaboration with Roger Waters and the Pink Floyd band, “The Wall” – a dark and socially critical musical fantasy about politicians, the education system and violence. “The Wall” and Pink Floyd’s famous theme song positioned the director as a prodigy and a unique creator in the commercial cinema landscape. Even when it comes to burdensome and disturbing and clearly non-commercial issues.
This is the case in the artistic drama “Birdy” (1984), in which Matthew Modin stars as an eccentric young man with a passion for birds whose soul is crushed by the rigid establishment that imprisons him in an institution for the mentally debilitated. “Angel’s Heart” (1987) was the first case in which he worked as a director with Hollywood superstars like Robert De Niro and Mickey Rourke, and the result of this experiment: a nightmarish and stylish thriller set in the sweaty south of the United States and considered by many to be a masterpiece. The success of “Angel’s Heart,” whose imaginary plot takes place in New Orleans, left Parker in the United States – this time in Mississippi, where he experimented with the political thriller “Burning Mississippi” (1988), starring William Defoe and Gene Hackman, who narrates the case. The murder of three social activists against the backdrop of the campaign for equality of African-Americans in a racist country.
Before returning to his homeland in the early 1990s to lead the production of the popular musical drama “The Commitments” (1991) for all the hits that came out of it, Parker managed to direct another political drama overseas “Let’s See Paradise” (1990) starring Dennis Quaid Deals with an untold story about the Japanese residents of the United States who were imprisoned in concentration camps in the wake of World War II and the attack on Pearl Harbor.
At this point in his career, Parker slowed down and took on fewer and fewer projects. In 1994, he collaborated with an impressive line of stars in the period comedy-drama The Road to Woodville, which recounts the exploits of Dr. Kellogg, the sleepwalking therapist. Despite the presence of Anthony Hopkins, Brigitte Fonda, John Cusack, Matthew Broderick and Dana Carvey, the blockbuster film, Parker soon recovered from this stumble upon his adaptation of the musical “Evita” (1996) by Andrew Lloyd Webber and starring Madonna.
Parker managed to direct one more film, “Angela’s Ashes” (starring Robert Carlisle and Emily Watson), which failed at the box office in 1999, before signing his directing career four years later with “The Story of David Gale” (starring Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet) who also disappointed commercially and marked the end of the British filmmaker’s career, just before his 60th birthday and against the backdrop of the growing difficulty of producing great works of art.
In an interview with the Guardian in 2017, he told how he decided to retire from the film business, which became commercial and difficult to carry out. “I wrote an anarchist contemporary script – a kind of version of ‘The Commitments’ in Glasgow but with black humor,” he recalls, “a friend of mine promised to fund the entire production. But when it came to the stylistic part, I had a quarrel with him about allocating a budget to the Art Design Department “It was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. It’s not only that the friend disappointed me, but also that I became very assertive over time. Fighting for movies and exchanging blows with the financiers became my basic nature and I did not like it. I decided to end my project and career.” .
Since 2003 Parker has not directed anymore, however he has been known in the UK as promoting and supporting local filmmakers. Because of this activity, and because of the diverse and stylistic richness he has left behind with a host of films that have shaped many of us, it is a great loss.