Movies of 1997 Bracket Game: The Full Monty vs The Fifth Element
These two films really don’t have much in common do they? One is a character-havy comedy set in a working class British town and is populated by men who are either pushing or smack dab in the middle of middle age and are largely uncomfortable with their own physicality. The other is a stylish sic-fi pastiche featuring bright blue opera singers, rubbery monsters, and sleek fashion models. Let’s take a look!
Our previous matchup turned out not to be much of a contest. Mike Myers and Jay Roach’s Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery leapt out to a big lead very quickly after the article was posted and never came close to giving that lead up. Seems like Fletcher Reed was pretty badly burned.
One of the elements which served to make 1997’s The Full Monty more than just a one note joke about average working class men performing in a Chippendale’s style show is how honestly it approached the topic. The characters aren’t simply used as punch lines, but as real people with very valid concerns and very realistic blind spots. Consider the below scene in which the reality of what they are getting ready to do is discussed.
We don’t get many discussions revealing male privilege in mainstream entertainment this effectively even to this day, do we? Here is a set of men who, largely due to the various difficult circumstances of their lives have chosen to relinquish the opt-out of public judgement that most women face on a much more obvious level daily. Sure, men are judged by their looks too, but we tend to be a bit more polite and forgiving with them and it’s much easier for a man to simply signal that he’s “average” and not asking to be sized up this way. He’s able to take the pressure off, but these guys have stepped out of that option and they are starting to realize what it means.
At first glance, there’s nothing particularly special about the way the scene is presented, but I would call your attention to the way the shots and set are designed to reflect the situations of the characters. They are together in a relatively cramped room and shot mostly in waist or shoulder high takes. This succeeds in reflecting the insular nature of their situation. These guys are going through this together and nobody else really understands what it’s about. The golden curtain behind Horse and Dave is pulled tight behind them on what appears to be a very sunny day. letting in enough light to increase the sense that though they are in hiding for the moment, they will soon be revealed to the harsh and unforgiving light of day (the fact that Horse is doing his exercises in slacks and a sport coat can only mean he’s still out of touch with what he’s agreed to do). Opposite from Dave and Horse and kept in separate shots, Guy is taking advantage of an artificial means of soaking up the sun the other men are studiously avoiding, since he is not encumbered by the body image issues they are. This comfort is also shown by the calming blue color chosen for the wallpaper behind him. Notice that his first shot here features him from head to shin, leaving almost none of him outside of the view of the camera.
The Fifth Element is likewise not so much known for the elegance of its editing, camerawork, or storyboarding, but for its extremely imaginative and stylish design. The movie’s eccentric characters and world have helped to make it a long term favorite. It’s a world full of bright, clean colors juxtaposed at times with murky and muddy images, costumes designed by famous fashionista Jean Paul Gaultier, and populated by models who are capable of wearing them.
The fact that the model checking them in for their flight takes pains to apologize for the huge pile of garbage behind them only emphasizes to me that it is purposefully in the background visually (as well as giving the characters an excuse for looking back to see Bruce Willis coming their way). Our eyes are naturally drawn to the bright blues, greens, and oranges which populate the frame. LeeLoo’s conspicuously orange hair and…suspenders onesie(?) are matched in this scene both by Corben Dallas’ undershirt, tying the two characters in the audience’s minds, and with a pair of glowing public art structures between them and the pile of garbage. In contrast, the costumes of the monks Vito and David fall into a negative visual field, reflecting their more conservative and less flamboyant personalities.
The Fifth Element received only a mixed overall critical response, but Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, the most famous and influential film critics of the time, both gave it a recommendation based mostly on its visual qualities. Although it was only nominated for a single Academy Award for Mark Mangini’s sound editing work, it was strongly honored at that year’s Cesar Awards (the French equivalent of the Oscars), being nominated in eight categories, including Best Picture, and winning three, with Besson taking home the prize for Best Director.
For a few years there, I tended to pair any presentation of my driver’s license with an exclamation of “Mool-Tee-Pass!” I doubt many of the people behind counters had any clue what I was talking about.
So which of these films is worthy of moving on to our final four for 1997? Vote here and tell us your reasons below in the comments section.