Pakula, Alan J.

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Nationality: American. Born: The Bronx, New York, 7 April 1928. Education: Attended Bronx High School of Science; studied drama, Yale University, degree 1948. Family: Married 1) actress Hope Lange (divorced 1969); 2) Hannah Cohn Boorstin, 1973, five step-children. Career: Assistant, cartoon department, Warner Bros., also stage director at Circle Theatre, Los Angeles, 1948; apprentice to producer-director Don Hartman at MGM, then at Paramount, from 1950; as producer, founded Pakula-Mulligan Productions with director Robert Mulligan, 1962 (active through 1969). Awards: Best Director, London Film Critics, 1971, for Klute; Best Direction, New York Film Critics, 1976, for All the President's Men; Eastman Award for Continued Excellence in Filmmaking, 1981. Died: 19 November 1998, in Melville, Long Island, New York, in a road accident.

Films as Director:


The Sterile Cuckoo


Klute (+ co-pr)


Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing (+ pr)


The Parallax View (+ pr)


All the President's Men


Comes a Horseman


Starting Over (+ co-pr)




Sophie's Choice (+ sc, co-pr)


Dream Lover (+ co-pr)


Orphans (+ pr)


See You in the Morning (+ sc, pr)


Presumed Innocent (+ co-sc)


Consenting Adults (+ pr)


The Pelican Brief (+ sc, pr)


The Devil's Own

Other Films:


Fear Strikes Out (Mulligan) (pr); To Kill a Mockingbird (Mulligan) (pr)


Love with a Proper Stranger (Mulligan) (pr)


Baby the Rain Must Fall (Mulligan) (pr)


Inside Daisy Clover (Mulligan) (pr)


Up the down Staircase (Mulligan) (pr)


The Stalking Moon (Mulligan) (pr)


By PAKULA: articles—

Interview with Tom Milne, in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1972.

Interviews with Michel Ciment, in Positif (Paris), March 1972 and October 1976.

Interview with A. C. Bobrow, in Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), September 1974.

"Making a Film about Two Reporters," in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), July 1976.

"Dialogue on Film: Alan J. Pakula," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), December/January 1978/79 and November 1985.

"A Walk with Good and Evil," an interview with A. M. Bahiana, in Cinema Papers, December 1990.

"Alan J. Pakula: Mester i seksuell besettelse," an interview with F. Johnsen, in Film and Kino, no. 7, 1990.

"Gentleman Pakula," an interview with Isabelle Reffas, in Cinéma72, April 1997.

On PAKULA: articles—

Jameson, R. T., "The Pakula Parallax," in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1976.

Carcassonne, P., "Dossier: Hollywood 79: Alan J. Pakula," in Cinématographe (Paris), March 1979.

Sinyard, Neil, "Pakula's Choice: Some Thoughts on Alan J. Pakula," in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), July 1984.

Seidenberg, R., "Presumed Innocent," in American Film, August 1990.

Downey, S. D., and K. Rasmussen, "The Irony of Sophie's Choice," in Women's Studies in Communication, vol. 14, no. 2, 1991.

Film Dope (Nottingham), April 1994.

Obituary, by Richard Natale, in Variety (New York), 23 November 1998.

Arnold, Frank, "Alan J. Pakula 7.4.1928–19.11.1998," an obituary in EPD Film (Frankfurt), January 1999.

Viviani, Christian, "Alan J. Pakula 1928–1998," an obituary in Positif (Paris), February 1999.

Jönsson, Mats, "Parallax Paranoia: Om Alan J. Pakulas amerikanska trilogi," in Filmhäftet (Stockholm), vol. 27, no. 105, 1999.

* * *

Now considered by many a major cinematic stylist, Alan J. Pakula began his career as a producer. The quality of his films is rather uneven, ranging from the acclaimed Fear Strikes Out and To Kill a Mockingbird to the universally panned Inside Daisy Clover. Critic Guy Flatley noted that Pakula is affectionately acknowledged within the film industry as an "actor's director," eliciting "richly textured performances" from Liza Minnelli in The Sterile Cuckoo; Maggie Smith in Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing; Warren Beatty in The Parallax View; Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, and Jason Robards Jr. in All the President's Men; Jane Fonda, James Caan, and Robards in Comes a Horseman; and Burt Reynolds, Candice Bergen, and Jill Clayburgh in Starting Over. Many filmgoers are surprised upon discovering that it was Pakula who directed all these films.

Pakula's self-effacement is deliberate. In the Oscar-winning Sophie's Choice (for Meryl Streep as best actress), the director's name is less known than the actors who worked so effectively under his direction, and far less known than the tragic personal, social, and historical themes of the film. Pakula stresses the psychological dimension of his films. Klute, one of his most celebrated efforts, is highlighted by his use of taped conversation to both reveal character and heighten suspense. The film is noted for "visual claustrophobia" and unusual, effective mise-en-scène. For her performance, Jane Fonda received an Academy Award.

Klute was Pakula's first "commercial and critical gold." As one critic writes, "the attention to fine, authentic detail in Klute reflected the careful research done by both the director and the actress in the Manhattan demimonde, and many of the shadings of the complex character of the prostitute were developed improvisationally during the filming by . . . Fonda in collaboration with Pakula." Critical response to Klute is represented by such writers as Robin Wood, who said, "If it is too soon to be sure of Pakula's precise identity as an auteur, it remains true that Klute belongs, like any other great movie, to its director." Characteristically, Pakula believes that "the auteur theory is half-truth because filmmaking is very collaborative."

Pakula's other films have had equal success: All the President's Men, for example, was the top-grossing film of 1976, and won four Academy Awards. It was nominated for best picture and best director, as well. Even the critic known as "Pakula's relentless nemesis," Stanley Kauffmann, "relented a little" concerning All the President's Men. Alan J. Pakula is a filmmaker whose work most notably features tautness in both narrative and performance; he is a director of "moods," and is often "congratulated for the moods he sustains." He has described his approach to filmmaking as follows: "I am oblique. I think it has to do with my own nature. I like trying to do things which work on many levels, because I think it is terribly important to give an audience a lot of things they may not get as well as those they will, so that finally the film does take on a texture and is not just simplistic communication."

Although he has remained active in recent years, Pakula has not produced—with one exception—work of real significance since Sophie's Choice (itself more of an actors' than director's film). See You in the Morning attempts to recycle the melodramatic poignancy of Klute and The Sterile Cuckoo, but does not rediscover the stylistic finesse that made these earlier films so successful. See You in the Morning's examination of family and personal breakdown is heavy-handed and hence strangely unaffecting.

The Pelican Brief, based on John Grisham's amateurish novel about the corrupt Washington establishment, makes no good sense, but is also strangely unexciting and unsuspenseful. Unlike Hitchcock, Pakula here proves unable to forge a masterful thriller from a marginal literary source; The Pelican Brief, it must be said, also fails to create the paranoid atmosphere that is the hallmark of Pakula's earlier, more successful forays into the political thriller (The Parallax View is the best of these). Consenting Adults is a domestic thriller centering on an unfaithful suburban husband who falls victim to a psychopath eager to perpetrate insurance fraud and steal his wife. The first part of this film offers a chilling version of contemporary upscale suburban life; but the film's second half descends into sub-Hitchcockian third-rate twists and turns that fail to engage or excite.

Only in Presumed Innocent does Pakula recapture some of his earlier success. Despite numerous plot inconsistencies (the legacy of Scott Turow's novel), Presumed Innocent is compelling viewing because Pakula takes pains to fashion a detailed setting (heightened by fine character performances); he also astutely directs Harrison Ford in the lead role.

—Deborah H. Holdstein, updated by R. Barton Palmer