My Favourite Film of 1997.

Film There have been some years in which it's been almost impossible to choose a single film. It's the plague of the cineaste. Some of us can say what their favourite film ever is (you'll see) but outside of that when faced with a limitation, a genre or year, we've seen so many worthwhile, good and potentially meaningful pieces of work that it's then impossible to tie things down.

Which is essentially me saying that although I've chosen The Fifth Element, it could equally have been Contact, Chasing Amy, Scream 2, LA Confidential, Men in Black, the various Star Wars rereleases, Titanic or The Peacemaker or a dozen other films that year which weren't made in Hollywood. Wilde. Smilla's Feeling For Snow. In The Company of Men. Shooting Fish.  1997 was some year.

I've chosen Luc Besson's The Fifth Element not just because I think it's a peerless example of production design, of fun and of how single characters like Milla's Leeloo can be so intriguing that they have the ability to eclipse the less impressive, well, elements like Chris Tucker's whatever Chris Tucker is doing and not just because  Eric Serra's soundtrack is also still one of my favourite records, alien and familiar, futuristic and contemporary.

But I also wanted to acknowledge the circumstances of when I saw it, at the second National Cinema Day.

National Cinema Day first happened on June 2nd 1996 on the hundredth anniversary of commercial cinema when I was just at the tail end of my final year of university and I spent the day at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds watching amongst other things, Wayne Wang's Smoke, a preview of the David O Russell comedy Flirting With Disaster and (I think) the rerelease of Withnail & I amid trailers for other upcoming attractions.

Here's a promotional film which was created for it that has one of the best pieces of unexpected swearing you'll ever see.

In 1997 I was back in Liverpool town where I was born and on Sunday 15th June was at a packed Odeon on London Road for the second go around.  As ever there was the usual mix of new releases, rereleases and preview screenings and as I write this remember the order.  The Fifth Element in the cavernous screen one then Scream (for the second time around) followed by One Fine Day, the underrated Pfeiffer/Clooney comedy.

Here's what I remember about seeing The Fifth Element.  Sitting in about five different seats.  With entry reduced to £1, packed auditoriums led to multiple code of conduct violations.  Even without mobile phones then people just didn't seem interested in bothering to watch the film presumably because it had only cost them a pound to get in.  So I moved around a lot trying to find a seat where I could actually concentrate on the film.

This wasn't helped either by two kids who kept throwing popcorn at the back of my head.  They followed me twice.  I'd settle down then there they'd be again and I'd feel something getting caught on my hair or bouncing off my shoulder.  Eventually they were chased out by ushers because someone else complained.  Which sounds like me passing the buck but really I've always found it easier to move than anything else.

National Cinema Day returned the following year but on that occasion tickets were "only" half price so my understanding is that attendances were much lower so it wasn't repeated which is a shame because it was a great way to promote cinema and increase audience numbers.  It'll be interesting to see the effect the end of Orange Wednesdays, its distant discount cousin will have on same.

Of course having written all of this, I've realised that the premise of this project has to change by a year. I was going back as far as 1897, but I'd not realised that the Lumiere Bros began commercial cinema in Paris in 1896 so I'll have to add an extra year on at the other end. Not that I'm sure what my favourite film of 1896 will prove to be but there's a high probability that the list of potentials will be shorter than from the mid-90s.

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