The Fifth Element – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 41: The Fifth Element

Fifth element 01

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor.

Previously On…

Last up was Silverado. It was jolly good fun indeed. The kind of film the word ‘rollicking’ was invented to describe. Even Kevin Costner had a good go, bless ‘im.

The Shortlist

It’s a very short shortlist this time. Here it is:

The Fifth Element (1997)

That’s the lot.

The Choice

We decided a few weeks ago that we wanted to watch The Fifth Element on the 20th anniversary of its UK release. And so here we are. We’re not going to make a habit of this sort of thing, as the free flowing nature of the CRFC is part of the appeal. But more on that later.

The Link

Brion James

Brion James in The Fifth Element

Brion James is the shared star. Despite being uncredited in Silverado (most of his part was left on the cutting room floor apparently), he made a notable impression. He’s one of those great character actors that’s in an awful lot of stuff (over 170 credits on IMDb), but often on the sidelines or as a villain. I know him best from either The Fifth Element itself or as Leon in Bladerunner, but I’m keen to get back to more of his work in future choices.

This is sad – he died in August 1999 at just 54. Also in August 1999 he said the following in an interview:

“I think now, in my 50s, with Robert Duvall, Albert Finney and Gene Hackman, those guys are getting up there in their 60s, it’s my time. And I’m making sure that I push myself into their slot. So, my best work’s coming.”

 

The Fifth Element and me

I missed The Fifth Element on the big screen. I was 16 and into sci-fi, so I’ve no idea what I was thinking. I seem to remember the press was fairly negative about it, but that wasn’t something I paid much attention to. I just didn’t go to the cinema that much then. Idiot.

Somewhere around 18 months later (I thought sooner, but just double checked some dates) I was in Our Price in Tunbridge Wells, where I’d end up working for a couple of years after leaving school, and saw Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and The Fifth Element in a 2-for-£12 deal on VHS. Money changed hands, I went home and watched them, and fell absolutely in love with The Fifth Element (and, for a long time, Milla Jovovich). I’ve watched it fairly regularly since, though not for a good five years or so. Does it hold up? Let’s find out.

IMDB says

In the colorful future, a cab driver unwittingly becomes the central figure in the search for a legendary cosmic weapon to keep Evil and Mr Zorg at bay. 7.7 stars.

I says

I’m going to break this up into four elements of the film. And then another. A fifth… element.

Firstly, and most importantly, if you ever play a drinking game while watching the Fifth Element, and one of you has to drink when someone says Korben, the other on Dallas, pick Dallas for the love of god. I chose poorly. It’s all plain sailing until Chris Tucker turns up and has lines such as “Korben Korben Korben Korben my man.”

Secondly, when doing a bit of research for this I noticed that Milla Jovovich was nominated for a Razzie for her performance. A RAZZIE! I spotted that before the rewatch, and wondered whether my teenage hormones had blinded me. I remembered her being pitch-perfect. Happy to confirm I was correct (unless my thirty-something hormones are blinding me). Milla is the absolute heart and soul of the film, and grapples with the made-up language, action set pieces and preposterous costumes with expertise.

Thirdly, yeah, there’s some weird stuff. A LOT of characters ogle Milla. Like, a lot. It’s not that much of a surprise that the director, Luc Besson, started production of the film in a relationship with the actress who played Diva Plavalaguna, but ended it in a relationship with Milla. His hormones were quite clearly raging too. And of course she is the most manic pixie dream girl of them all. And yes, I’m sure the Supreme Being needed to be given a make-up box. Though I suppose you could argue that that says something about the priest’s inexperience with women.

Fourthly, I could watch Ian Holm and Gary Oldman in this until the cows come home. Particularly Ian Holm. He is an absolute delight.

Fifthly, it’s just fantastic. The music, a kind of weird big-beat vibe, is somewhat dated, but everything else is absolutely fresh. The world reminds me a little of Brazil – everything’s full-to-bursting. People show up for one line and deliver characters you want whole spin-off films about. It’s telling that just this week the long-awaited sequel to the game Beyond Good and Evil was unveiled in a CGI trailer, and it’s clearly inspired by the world of The Fifth Element. 20 years on and it’s getting better and better. Except Tricky. Tricky is terrible.

The Verdict

Fifth element 02

Leeloo Dallas Multipass! Autowash! Dot! It’s a b- a b- a b-! Big badaboom! Chicken good!

Apart from the music (and Tricky), it’s a timeless masterpiece. It’s a joy, from beginning to end.

Coming Attractions

Okay okay okay, so you know earlier where I mentioned we weren’t going to try and get to specific films any more? Well The Prince Charles Cinema is showing Streets Of Fire on the 16th, and a mutual friend of mine and Tim’s has mooted an outing and suggested making it part of the CRFC. So I kind of said yes.

That means we need to find a linking film between The Fifth Element and Streets of Fire and squeeze in a viewing this week. It’s definitely do-able, but there are only a few viable options…

@BornToPootle

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Is Genre Fiction Reaching Critical Mass?

"...all the writers who’ve been excluded from literature for so long – my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction, writers of the imagination..."

“…all the writers who’ve been excluded from literature for so long – my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction, writers of the imagination…”

Interesting things are happening in SFF and other ‘genre’ fiction right now. Having been looked down on for decades (centuries?) it’s increasingly looking like mainstream cultural and critical acceptance is on the cards. Why do I think this? And why now?

The last two ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions at the British Library were devoted to comics/graphic novels and Gothic fiction. The BFI have a sweeping Sci Fi season on at the moment. The BBC are getting in on the act and have sci fI documentaries playing right now. And then there was this speech from Ursula K Le Guin (and if you haven’t read her Left Hand of Darkness I suggest you stop reading this right now and get a copy).

I’ve written briefly about Interstellar already and, whatever you may think of it, there’s surely no denying it’s great to see a slab of grown up sci fi reaching a wide audience – not just robots slugging each other in the face for once. And on TV Game of Thrones has become the one to rule them all.

That’s why I think it’s happening now, but where has it come from? What’s driving it? I wonder if it’s not linked back to the phenomenon that is/was Harry Potter. The generation that were kids when the first book came out are grown up now. And through their teenage years and into early adulthood they followed Harry’s saga, with Lord of the Rings punctuating it on the big screen (along with the Potter adaptations themselves of course). It was an adolescence defined by fantastical fiction, some of the most successful ever, and it has led to an fantasy-literate adult audience broader than ever before.

That’s my theory at any rate, and I’m sure there are many other ways to spin it – capitalism following one genre success to make more money maybe, or the internet uniting disparate fantasy fans into a collective force, or something in the times we’re living through making fantasy and sci-fi appealing as either carriers for metaphor or escapism from the global recession.

I’ll post something more about Harry Potter soon, but what do you think? Do you think genre fiction is ascending to its rightful place alongside ‘literary’ fiction? If so, what’s your theory?

@BornToPootle

Interstellar and Magick

First off, allow me to announce right up front: Interstellar Spoiler Alert.
Ok, just those who’ve seen it left? On we go.
I saw and very much enjoyed Interstellar the other night, and one part of it struck a bit of a chord with me. Once Coop (Matthew McConaughey) has gone into the black hole and fallen into a higher dimensional space the filmmakers were quite clearly needing to find a way to represent something outside our perceptions yet in a way that we could perceive. The way he was able to interact with matter, pushing at the strings of reality seemed like a neat way to represent it, and actually reminded me a little of Jamie Braddock from X-men/eXcalibur comics. I think Interstellar pulled it off better though if I’m honest.
I write about magick and odd ethereal concepts so I’m always on the lookout for ways other media portray the unportrayable. I’m not talking about fireball-slinging wizard battles here, but more esoteric stuff. Interstellar fits right into this, particularly when bearing in mind the famous Arthur C Clarke quote:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic
Talking of magick...

Talking of magick…

One of my other film faves for this is A Field In England, Ben Wheatley’s Civil War weird-fest. When the magick (or is it drugs?) gets going there’s a beautiful and abrasive bombardment of images that threatens to overwhelm the viewer. Add that to the ethereal tone conjured throughout and I think it far exceeds any of Kenneth Anger’s Magick Lantern Cycle where magick is concerned.
Typically understated

Typically understated…

Out of film, parts of Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles comic series take a great stab at showing intersecting realities, particularly some of the Phil Jiminez illustrated issues around Bloody Hell In America – take a gander at the photo above for a favourite page from my much-thumbed copy. Hardly a surprise given the Pop Magic! central both to the comic and Grant Morrison’s philosophy.
Let me know some other exciting interpretations of higher planes of existence/experience, I’m always on the lookout for more.

Creative Distractions

Or, the play’s the thing. Unless the novel’s the thing.

My latest mash-up attempt. High culture and Firefly (or, as I would have it, HIGHEST culture)

My latest mash-up attempt. High culture and Firefly (or, as I would have it, HIGHEST culture)

I mentioned in my last post that I had, for a little while at least, stalled while redrafting the novel I’m working on. The good news is that I’m back up to speed, but this post is about something a little different. While I was stalled my brain threw up all kinds of things to distract me from the task at hand. And fortunately I’ve been in such a routine of writing that some of those distractions were creative. So over the period of a couple of days when I was supposed to redrafting I wrote a play. Don’t worry, I was as surprised as you.

Despite training and working as an actor for a few years, I’ve never really had the inclination to write a play, so I was quite surprised when an idea popped into my head almost fully formed that had a nice bow tied around it reading ‘for the stage’. Odd how ideas instinctively seem to know what medium they’re going to be in.

Well I wrote it, a nice half hour two-hander set in the cockpit of a spaceship, and then gave it a quick redraft. And then… I didn’t really know what to do with it. It feels so different to writing a novel – I’ve spent the last few years teaching myself about that process, and suddenly felt adrift.

The thing with a play is that, unless you’re going to direct and star in it as well, other people are going to get their grubby little paws all over it. Reading it after the redraft it became very apparent that I needed to hear it out loud, in other peoples’ voices, or I wouldn’t have a clue how it actually came across. Fortunately I know some awesome, super-talented actors, so I assembled my crack squad of two, both rather handily with experience in writing and workshopping material they’d created, and on Saturday I held my first workshop for something I’d written.

Definitely best to theme clothing to the task at hand.

Definitely best to theme clothing to the task at hand.

The first order of business, after admiring the Jayne Cobb T-shirt and hat one of the actors arrived in (see above for my attire for the day – you may have spotted I’m a Firefly fan), was a first read of the play, sat in chairs, sipping tea. Even just that was really useful – both actors approached the roles in interesting ways, picking up on a dynamic I hadn’t thought of. And rather pleasingly I thought the writing held up pretty well when vocalised – with a few clunkers thrown in for good measure, of course. It was clear to me though that the drama was very one-sided and the denouement slightly rushed.

After a brief chat about the play and the characters in general, I got the actors to improvise around a couple of the key moments. The play opens with one of the characters wanting solitude and the other wanting interaction, so I gave the actors different levels of how much they needed that solitude/interaction and then made them raise and lower that need throughout the improvisation – it helped unlock a couple of interesting dynamics that will feed back into the script. I might leave out the dance routine though.

After three different improvisations, each looking at a different part of the drama, we went back to the script, and had a second readthrough, but this one following the few stage directions I’d written and moving around the space as and when the instinct kicked in. It all came together remarkably easily, helped by the fact that I hadn’t written much physical action, and once again really highlighted the two big weak spots in the play which, thanks to the improvisations, I’ve got some great ideas for how to fix.

So what now? Well I’ll have another re-write and then I don’t know. I’ll look up some short play festivals and see if I fit the criteria, or check out some new writing nights. Which is all-new, all-scary but also all-cool!

@BornToPootle