Angel Heart and Mississippi Burning in a restored version: what remains of Alan Parker’s cinema?

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Angel Heart / Mississippi Burning - Alan Parker
Studio Canal / The Image Workshop

The two cult films were released in a restored version in July 2020. The 2nd returns tonight on 6ter.

This article was originally published in Première in July 2020.

First of all Fame, Pink Floyd – The Wall, birdie then Angel Heart and Mississippi Burning. To say that Alan Parker left his mark on the cinema of the unloved 80s is an understatement. was an imposed figure. What remains of these gleaming eighties or rather what remains of the stylized cinema of Alan Parker and his British friends who once conquered Hollywood? Lots of ghosts, a few corpses and… Ridley Scott still mighty under the palm trees. Adrian Lyne (Flashdance, 9 1⁄2 weeks…)Roland Joffe (The Tear, Mission…) and Hugh Hudson (Chariots of Fire, Greystoke, Legend of Tarzan…), they no longer have their place on the shelves of moviegoers who hold their noses thinking about all this material, once celebrated (Palme d’Or, Oscars …), now placardized. So here are tumbling through the video shelves in restored 4K copies, Angel Heart and Mississippi Burningtwo titles shot between 1985 and 1987 by the man who now calls himself “Sir Alan”, proof that the British crown is less bitchy than the Californian studios. Angel Heart is a film noir with faded colors with Mickey Rourke as an ersatz Philip Marlowe opposite a diabolical Robert De Niro. Mississippi Burning, he is an anti-racist thriller in the heart of segregationist America also carried by two generations of actors: the solid Gene Hackman on one side, the emaciated Willem Dafoe on the other. Two films that mark both the apogee and the beginning of the end for Alan Parker, just as prolific during the following decade but accumulating artistic and public failures (cf. the bloated musical avoid). The filmmaker, 75 years old today, has not given any news on the big screen since The Life of David Gale in 2003, a trial film against the death penalty with clumsy humanism with Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet. Alan Parker is definitely a man of the past whose past, however, commands respect.

THE ONE WHO LOOKED FOR SHIT

In a long interview by Jean-Pierre Lavoignat and Christophe d’Yvoire, an excerpt from which constitutes one of the bonuses of the edition of Mississippi BurningAlan Parker, dressed to the nines, says this: “I usually say that my autobiography will be called The one who was looking for shit. I always look for shabby and dilapidated places…” This is indeed what strikes the vision ofAngel Heart and Mississippi Burning : their anchorage in a sticky and damaged setting which immediately draws a hellish world of hopeless romanticism. It’s all mud, swamps, shabby interiors, ominous alleys, characters on the go… The wintry Manhattan of the 1950s has the same pallid complexion as a sun-drenched backwater of Mississippi in the 1960s. Alan Parker films like a small theater where the places are recrossed several times and draw a micro-territory allowing only a tiny part of a labyrinth to be glimpsed. Angel Heart and Mississippi Burning suffocate the viewer with their twilight atmospheres, their camera close to the body and their unhealthy venom. A mystical fever contaminates, indeed, the spirits (black magic, voodoo ceremony here, rite of the Ku Klux Klan there). As for the discreet and disturbing chords of composer Trevor Jones, they circulate from one film to another like an underground curse. Furthermore, if Angel Heart is intentionally mental and Mississippi Burning has a more distanced narrative structure, the two respective stories revolve around an investigation to unearth the roots of an insidious evil. It is a Dantesque America folded in on itself that the Briton shows. It is surprising that what remains of this cinema is mainly what was reproached to it by part of the intelligentsia at the time: its style. A style considered affected, baroque (in a word “advertising”) which nevertheless displays an obvious formal coherence. ” For Famous, I was told: “New York is pretty in the film, not in reality!” “, defended the filmmaker in the columns of First at the exit ofAngel Heart. “But around 6 p.m., when the sun goes down skimming the skyscrapers, it’s pretty! Of course, I choose the visually beautiful moments, but these are moments that really exist! […] I like that better than having a reputation as a “realistic” filmmaker and bathing my films in supermarket light. For a filmmaker like Alan Parker from the world of advertising, the cinematographic image had to sublimate reality, however atrocious it might be. Hence this misunderstanding at the exit of Mississippi Burningand in particular the African-American public who will see it as condescension towards their community.

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OPEN WAR

But at the center of the frame, there are the actors, the sole agents of a possible transcendence. It is especially true ofAngel Heart whose tension is entirely contained in the cockfight between the young Rourke and the demigod De Niro. The actor of Taxi Driver, ultra precise, pierces with a dark look the more messy handsome kid, obliged to surpass himself to exist. “Parker says ‘action’, I’m going in, explains a bit bitter Mickey Rourke to First in April 1987. De Niro reaches out his hand, shakes mine… and doesn’t let go! We stayed like that looking at each other, straight in the eyes, before I got my hand back… The war was on. ” Regarding Mississippi Burning, the balance of power is more balanced between Hackman and Dafoe. It is above all the young Frances McDormand, 26 years old and muse of the Coen brothers (they then made blood for blood and Arizona Junior), which illuminates the film from within. Sublime as a wounded woman, each of her appearances brings a tragic intensity. At the end of the film, alone in the middle of her devastated interior, she watches Gene Hackman leave and, fatalistically, says to him: “I have always lived here. I’m staying. I know a lot of people will support me. Humanity, whatever one thinks of it, is never totally lost. An optimism that corrects the desperate tone ofAngel Heart where the devil had the last word. Alan Parker’s cinema is parked in this in-between. In purgatory.

ANGEL HEART

Movie ★★★★ • Bonus Not seen
• By Alan Parker
• StudioCanal editor
• With Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro, Lisa Bonet… • On DVD and Blu-ray 4K + Steelbook Blu-ray 4K Ultra HD

MISSISSIPPI BURNING

Movie ★★★ • Bonus ★★★
• By Alan Parker
• Publisher L’Atelier d’images • With Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe, Frances McDormand
• On DVD and 4K Blu-ray

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