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Alan Jay Pakula Edit Profile

writer , film producer , film director

Alan Jay Pakula was an American film director, writer and producer. He was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture for To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Best Director for All the President's Men (1976) and Best Adapted Screenplay for Sophie's Choice (1982).

Pakula was also notable for directing his "paranoia trilogy": All the President's Men, Klute (1971), and The Parallax View (1974).


Pakula was born in The Bronx, New York to parents of Polish Jewish descent, Jeanette (née Goldstein) and Paul Pakula.


He was educated at The Hill School, Pottstown, PA and Yale University, where he majored in drama.


Pakula and his colleague of the 1960s, Robert Mulligan, worked in the dilute vein of intelligent, cautiously bold entertainment still congratulating itself in American movies. Thus Pakula spoke of his own approach: “I am oblique, I think that has to do with my own nature. I like trying to do things which wnrk on many levels, because I think it is terribly important to give an audience a lot of things they ma)’ not get as well as those they will, so that finally the film does take on a texture and is not just simplistic communication.”

But that earnestness, and the ‘‘texture" of his films, are too bland and calculated. Pakula is a little simpler than he hopes, and Flute and The Parallax View (though very gripping) show' the dangers of falling between brilliantly acted crime melodrama and intellectual coat trailing. It is too easy to say that Flute reveals brooding urban paranoia, confused sexual identity, and a type of morbid voyeurism. No one could miss those themes or allow them to disguise Jane Fondas clutching of the film to herself so that the potentiallv disturbing Klute is left a blank character and the audience is as preoccupied with the actress’s studied feelings as are Bree Daniels’s clients.

Perhaps that balance of the commercial and tire perilous is in the character of an ex-producer, a confessed admirer of actors, and someone who once thought of being a psychoanalyst (the surrogate and passive director in Flute). From Yale, where he majored in drama, lie went to the car¬toons department of Warner Brothers and then into producing. In retrospect, it seems likely that his taste for out-of-the-way people and situations, plus an instinct for respectable, well-planned pathos, were guiding elements in the partnership with Robert Mulligan that made Fear Strikes Out, To Fill a Mockingbird, Lon’ With the Proper Stranger, Baby, The Rain Must Fall, Inside Daisy Clover, Up the Down Staircase, and The Stalking Moon.

Pakula’s debut, and his third film, were attempts at unsentimental portraits of emotional grotesques: Liza Minnelli as a gauche college girl, and Maggie Smith trembling with terminal illness. Both films suffer from the somewhat distasteful way in which they “work” so well. In other words, the grotesques are the result of neat scripting and verv cute acting. Their essential vulgarity should be remembered against the welcome touch and subtlety of the thrillers. Flute is much better, but still a meek vehicle for a grave actress encouraged into mannerism. T1 le best thing about it is the deliberate visual claustrophobia.

Pakula was exactly the director for the Watergate thriller in that he allowed film noir to obscure the chance of a more searching study of American compromise. The film is deft, thrilling, and cheerful; whereas the events it trades on w'ere clumsy, tedious, and very depressing. Hollywood is not dead or defunct when it turns that storv into the heroics of crusading journalism as embodied in two star actors. Pakula has such mastery with the melodramatics of Deep Throat and the sinister climate of a spooked Washington that one could believe in Mabuse again. The disregard of interpretation or political understanding in the movie (and the book) bear witness to the way the media have made justice a theme for entertainment. It follows from this that anxiety and conspiracy theory neurotic preoccupations of Pakula are never treated, only preyed upon. All the President’s Men proved that the sense of fiction was so rampant in America that you could go from fact to legend in three years without passing understanding.

Just as Pakula seemed very close to the jittery pulse of America in the seventies, so in the eighties a gap opened up. Good as he had been at convexing paranoia, he seemed less interested in other moods. Sophie’s Choice was his only success, and that had literary prestige, a fine cast, and Meiyl Streep at her most virtuoso moment. Still, Pakula didn’t quite make that queasy story work or flow; rather he left us reminded of its implausibilities and of things a screen cannot show without prompting revulsion.

So many ol his other films have been strained in tone and less than compelling. He tried to regain commercial momentum with the old-fashioned legalese melodrama of Presumed Innocent and The Pelican Brief, and it worked well enough. But The Devil's Own was a mess over which Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt had fought. It was a sad decline, capped by Pakulas death in a freak accident. In his absence now, it’s easier to see how good Klute is and how well Pakula felt a moment in American history.



From October 19, 1963 until 1971, Pakula was married to actress Hope Lange. He was married to his second wife, Hannah Pakula (formerly Hannah Cohn Boorstin) until his death in 1998.

Hannah Cohn Boorstin

Hope Lange
Hope Lange - spouse of Alan Pakula