SIR ALAN PARKER began his career in the advertising world of the 1960s, working first as a copywriter and then as a director of commercials. He progressed to feature films from the mid-1970s, directing movies such as “Bugsy Malone”, “Midnight Express”, “Fame” and “The Commitments”. But in 2003, he said “Cut!” for the last time. Speaking to Nick Amies at the Brussels International Film Festival, where he appeared as a special guest, Sir Alan looked back at his time in the director’s chair.
You made your last film, “The Life of David Gale”, 11 years ago. Why did you decide to stop after that?
I discovered that I enjoyed not making films. It started as a break and then I discovered I liked my life as it was. I’ve been making movies since I was 24 and I’m now 70. Some directors will keep going and probably die on set, but I won’t be one of those. Making films is an extremely demanding process; as a director you work 14- or 15-hour days, six days a week for about three months and then another two years finishing the film and promoting it. You need the same enthusiasm and energy from start to finish. It’s a young person’s game, in my opinion. I’d much rather go to the pub these days.
Have you not been tempted to make another film in that time?
I had maybe five projects in mind in the early years after “David Gale”, but as time went by I decided that my life was better without making films. I’ve been pretty lucky though. All the projects I developed have been made into films. I’m not one of these people to have scripts knocking about in a drawer. Some ideas never came to fruition, but those which became solid projects got made.
There was talk of you filming a remake of the Marlene Dietrich movie “The Blue Angel” in the 1980s, with Madonna in the lead role. What happened to that?
Diane Keaton was keen to produce the movie, I was enthusiastic about making it and we had Madonna and De Niro pegged for the lead roles, but it just never came to anything. Everyone just lost interest in it.
You worked with Madonna on “Evita” a few years after that. What was that like?
When you make musical films you either have to work with actors who can sing or singers who can act. Somewhere along the way, you have to compromise, let’s put it like that. Madonna sent me a six-page letter detailing why she thought she would be perfect for the role, which must have worked because I eventually cast her. We had originally wanted Michelle Pfeiffer, but she had two young kids and wouldn’t leave Los Angeles.
Music is central to a number of your films. How would you describe your relationship with music, with regard to your film-making?
Music and images have such a strong connection and music can create such dramatic energy in a film. It is always my taste of music which makes it into the film and I have a wide appreciation of music, as you can see in the contrasts between something like “Evita” and “Pink Floyd The Wall”. There are only a few times where others have influenced my choice of music. Nic Cage was driving me mad on the set of “Birdy” by constantly singing “La Bamba”, so when it came to a scene where we needed him to sing I told him to just go with that stupid song he’d been driving me round the bend with.
“Birdy” is one of a number of your films whose ending is opening to interpretation. Is this a conscious use of the device on your part?
I think it’s always good to make your audience work a little. If people leave the cinema debating the ending of the film, then my goal to provoke is achieved—as long as they’re satisfied with the journey they took to get to the end. In the United States, the rule is to never let the audience leave unsatisfied, whereas in European cinema, they just don’t care. If it makes you think, then that’s good. I like open endings because they make film mysterious. And anyway, most directors don’t actually know how to end a film.
You’re appearing at this year’s Brussels International Film Festival. What’s your opinion of the contemporary film scene in Europe?
It’s becoming harder to see good and interesting European films, especially in London where I live, as the United Kingdom is so dominated by films from the United States. I have a nine-year-old son so I have to sit through a lot of big Hollywood special-effects blockbusters and, to be honest, I sleep through most of them. That’s not to say that there are no intelligent films coming out of the States or Europe, it’s just that special and original films are rare. Films are more about recouping costs and generating revenue these days than pushing artistic boundaries.
Would you say that financial constraints are hindering creativity in the film industry?
There’s never enough money. I’ve been asked this same question about funding for the last 25 years and the answer, sadly, remains the same: without cash, European cinema will die. My belief is that we need to foster new talent to keep film alive and to create new and exciting projects which will bring people into cinemas to watch them. Who wants to see the same old director making the same type of film over and over again? But for this, you need money and it’s very hard—especially in today’s climate—to ask for such large sums when you have priorities such as health, social care and education.
This Q&A originally appeared in The Economist
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