Why Angel Heart Is an Important Film

Angel HeartAlan Parker is one of my favorite film directors. Unlike most film directors who are often great in their own ways, Parker is an artist. I don’t think it is any surprise that he directed two of the best filmed musicals ever: Pink Floyd—The Wall and Evita. And that’s not even counting Fame and The Commitments, which are kind of musicals. He has a stunning visual style that somehow manages not to call attention to itself like Martin Scorsese’s (with all due respect to that great artist).

Despite the fact that he has made so many wonderful films (eg Midnight Express), my favorite Parker film is Angel Heart. And I feel that I need to defend it. Parker is well know to me as providing director commentaries during which he says almost nothing. He often gets involved in watching the film and says nothing. And he’s aware of this because he even mentions it from time to time. On one of his commentaries, he even concludes that it is okay that he isn’t saying anything. For the record: no it isn’t.

But on the commentary track for Angel Heart, he mentioned that he had shown the film to his mentor. I don’t currently own the DVD, so I can’t say who it was. But the mentor did not like the film. He claimed that being able to make a film was such a great opportunity that one should only use it to make important films. I don’t know if this is what caused Parker to go on to make Mississippi Burning or the artistically catastrophic The Life of David Gale or other later films of varying quality. But his mentor was wrong—profoundly wrong. Angel Heart is probably the most serious and important film that Parker ever made.

This is my opinion, of course. It is the result of my interest in ontological questions. But before I get to them, I must warn you: if you haven’t seen the film (or read William Hjortsberg’s excellent novel Falling Angel) you should stop reading. In general, I don’t believe in spoilers. But Angel Heart is a great mystery story and you owe it to yourself to watch it cold. So the rest of my article is “below the fold.” Continue reading