British filmmaker Alan Parker, director of movies ranging from “Bugsy Malone”, a gangster comedy featuring children armed with cream-shooting guns, to tense prison drama “Midnight Express”, has died aged 76, British media reported on Friday.
Parker, who also directed “Fame”, “Evita”, “Mississippi Burning”, “The Commitments” and other successful movies, died on Friday after a lengthy illness, according to the media reports.
Known for his eclecticism, Parker was equally at ease in the worlds of musical comedy and of hard-hitting true crime drama.
“Bugsy Malone”, his highly original feature film debut in 1976, was a musical parody of Prohibition-era gangster movies, performed entirely by children. It featured a young Jodie Foster as glamorous singer Tallulah, and other child actors who went on to have successful careers.
Parker followed up with “Midnight Express”, based on the true story of an American man imprisoned in Turkey for smuggling hashish. The film won two Oscars, including one for Oliver Stone, who wrote the script.
Again moving in a different direction, Parker then made the gritty musical “Fame”, about the highs and lows of the lives of performing arts students in New York – a huge commercial success that spawned a spin-off TV series.
Subsequent successes included “Birdy”, a drama about Vietnam War veterans, and “Mississippi Burning”, based on the true story of an FBI investigation into the disappearance of three civil rights activists in the 1960s.
Although widely acclaimed at the time, garnering seven Oscar nominations and winning one, that film was also criticised by some in the Black community. Among other issues, critics took issue with a lack of Black role models and what they saw as a narrow focus on two white FBI agents.
The actor Matthew Modine, one of the stars of “Birdy”, said on Twitter he was very sad to learn of Parker’s death. “Being cast in his epic film, Birdy, transformed my life. Alan was a great artist whose films will live forever,” Modine said.
Parker later returned to the world of music, with commercial success, directing comedy “The Commitments” about a short-lived soul band in Dublin, and “Evita”, starring Madonna and based on an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, who collaborated with Parker on “Evita”, said he was “one of the few directors to truly understand musicals on screen”.
He also made a film version of “Angela’s Ashes”, based on the bestselling memoir of the same name by Frank McCourt.
Parker received honours in Britain for his achievements in filmmaking, including a knighthood in 2002.
He is survived by his wife Lisa Moran-Parker, five children and seven grandchildren, according to the BBC.