Director of Evita, Alan Parker dies, aged 76

British film director, producer and writer Alan Parker (L) poses with his BAFTA fellowship award during the annual BAFTA British Academy Film Awards in 2013. (AFP pic)

LOS ANGELES: Alan Parker, who bent genres and celebrated music with hits such as “Bugsy Malone”, “The Commitments” and “Evita”, died Friday at the age of 76.

The British director, whose films have won 10 Oscars and 10 Golden Globes, also explored US race relations with “Mississippi Burning” and chilled audiences with the film noir “Midnight Express”.

The US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science called Parker “an extraordinary talent”.

“His work entertained us, connected us, and gave us such a strong sense of time and place,” it said in a tweet, calling him “a chameleon” for his ability to change with the times.

His family said he died “following a lengthy illness”.

Modest beginnings

The son of a London house painter and dress maker, Parker first tried his luck at writing and directing commercials.

He made his first film for the BBC before blossoming in the 1970s with a rapid succession of standout hits, starting with the unusual 1976 gangster musical comedy “Bugsy Malone”, which featured a cast of children.

His 1978 dark drama “Midnight Express”, about a US student who was thrown into a Turkish prison for drug smuggling, got Parker his first Oscar nomination.

He followed that up in 1980 with the genre-setting American teen musical drama “Fame”, which was spun off into a popular US TV series and led to other dance musical films.

Parker shifted gears completely with “Pink Floyd – The Wall”, whose dark themes and powerful imagery helped build up the British rock group into superstars in 1982.

“Alan was my oldest and closest friend, I was always in awe of his talent,” said fellow British film director David Puttnam, who produced some of Parker’s movies.

“My life and those of many others who loved and respected him will never be the same again.”

Controversy

Parker moved from exploring music to asking questions about US treatment of African-Americans in the Deep South in the 1960s with the 1988 drama “Mississippi Burning”.

The film, which was based on the FBI’s investigation into the disappearance of three civil rights leaders, created controversy.

Some US civil rights leaders condemned it for fictionalising events and portraying the FBI too positively.

“I was somewhat bemused by it all – and a little punch-drunk,” Parker wrote in his official website.

“It certainly wasn’t intended to be the definitive story of the black Civil Rights struggle.”

The film won just one Oscar, for cinematography, after being nominated for seven.

Casting Madonna

But Parker’s career did not suffer. The director returned to his musical roots with the cheerful 1991 musical comedy drama “The Commitments”, based on the eponymous novel by the Irish writer Roddy Doyle.

The film created a huge cultural impact, gaining cult status and becoming especially celebrated in Ireland itself.

“I have not had a more enjoyable time filming than when I made this movie in the daily, hilarious company of these brilliant kids,” Parker recalled on his website.

“Probably of all my films, ‘The Commitments’ is the most liked – particularly by critics.”

Parker’s last major success came with the 1996 musical drama “Evita”, in which Madonna played the leading role of Argentina’s late first lady Eva Peron in his screen adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage show.

He collaborated with Oliver Stone on many of his works.

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) said it was “deeply saddened” by the news.

James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli said she was “heartbroken”.

“His work always exhibited the elements of his personality that we so cherished; integrity, humanity, humour and irreverence and rebellion, and most certainly entertainment,” Broccoli said.