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Alan Parker’s Five Most Jewish Films

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DIRECTOR ALAN PARKER AT HIS SOHO OFFICES IN LONDON.10.4.08.PIX STEVE BUTLER

While he was not Jewish, Alan Parker who passed away on July 31st, created some memorable Jewish moments onscreen. Here are the top five.

The Evacuees (1975)

The Evacuees was an episode of the BBC’s Play for Today series written by Jack Rosenthal. Loosely based on Rosenthal’s own experiences of World War Two, it focuses on the lives of two Jewish boys, Neville and Danny, who are evacuated from Manchester to Blackpool during the blitz.

Midnight Express (1978)

In Midnight Express, the violent chief guard of the Turkish prison, Hamidou, was played by Paul L. Smith. While Hamidou was not Jewish, Smith brought some sub-surface Jewishness to the role. His first acting role was in Exodus, which was filmed in Israel. Between 1967 and 1973, Smith made five films in Israel.

Fame (1980)

In Fame (1980), Doris Finsecker was a shy and uptight Jewish girl who described herself as ‘about as flamboyant as a bagel’. Questioning her Jewish upbringing, she changes her name to ‘Dominique DuPont’. Producer David de Silva envisioned her as ‘a young Barbra Streisand’, a Jewish girl from Brooklyn’. Instead, Parker cast an Irish actress.

There were other Jewish actors and charcters in the movie. Albert Hague played the music teacher Benjamin Shorofsky. Joanna Merlin was Miss Berg, the dance teacher. Barry Miller, Richard Belzer and Isaac Mizrahi also featured in the film.

Angel Heart (1987)

Angel Heart starred Lisa Bonet and the walk-up which Parker eventually used for Harry Angel’s office was in the once Jewish quarter of the Lower East Side, full of tenements, on Eldridge Street where Hebrew lettering can clearly be seen. Some might even suggest that the character of Louis Cyphre was Jewish but that is another story.

Mississippi Burning (1988)

Mississippi Burning was based on the true story of the 1964 murders of three civil rights activities, James ChaneyAndrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, two of whom were Jewish. The lead FBI agent was played by Gene Hackman who Seth Rogen mistakenly believed was Jewish.

Sir Alan William Parker CBE (14 February 1944 – 31 July 2020)

[Cover image: By Lisa Moran Parker – Lisa Moran Parker by email, CC BY-SA 1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24401931]

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I teach film studies at Bangor University in north Wales where I live. I research, write and broadcast regularly (in Welsh and English) on transatlantic Jewish culture and history.
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