Neo-Baroque, according to Omar Calabrese, is characterised by qualities such as instability, change and excess (Neo-Baroque: a sign of the times, Princeton UP, 1992). We find these qualities in Luc Besson’s film, The Fifth Element, particularly in the Diva Sequence. The film illustrates some of Calabrese’s theories of modern culture and extends them into the future, portraying a futuristic New York City and, in the case of the diva sequence, Besson even extends his vision to another planet and other life forms, all contributing to a neo-baroque (or, since it is the future of neo-baroque, one might say “post neo-baroque”) vision of our future.
Before the diva sequence even begins the audience receives a sense of impending excess. The first time the audience is introduced to the apparently famous and mysterious diva, she is presented in an almost untouchable manner, with the nervous concierge muttering his supposedly welcoming words (of which the only coherent word is “Tall”) to this towering being in blue standing before him. The opera house hints to the audience the connection between the old baroque and neo-baroque since it is itself a “replica of the old opera house” as the famous radio presenter, Ruby Rod announces.
Ruby Rod is himself an example of excess and instability. Calabrese comments that aspects of “… disturbance and provocation – to the point of vulgarity – can be found in the sexuality expressed by some contemporary rock stars” (p. 60, Neo-Baroque: a sign of the times, Princeton UP, 1992). Ruby Rod represents the pop culture of the day; clothed in an extravagant, feminine dress, wearing make up, and yet somehow uncontrollably attractive to women.
This transvestism can be found in such recent pop icons as Boy George. A more recent example of this sort of phenomenon is the Russian group T. a. T. u.currently in the pop charts with the song “All the Things She Said” of which the film clip features the two female singers in school dresses kissing each-other in the rain. Further links to the old baroque are made when the Diva begins to sing the old opera song by Donizetti titled Lucia di Lammermoor. As the song progresses and becomes increasingly intense, so too do the visual shots. Change is portrayed in this sequence which begins with smooth transitional cuts of the diva. As the song becomes more “allegro” so to do the cuts become harsher. The first cut away from the diva is to Lilu (The Fifth Element) looking worried.
The cuts become faster with the music and begin to show excessive shots of ugly space creatures killing people without concern, juxtaposed with shots of still, beautiful Lilu. Lilu throws the first punch at the same time as the first kick of the beat. The introduction of the beat to the old, rhythm-less opera song is an important element. Rhythm has the ability to schematize a second. This comes back to the “baroque” 1. problem that the once smallest unit of time exists no longer since we are able to break it up into increasingly smaller units. Consider the shots of Lilu fighting the ugly, alien creatures, her fighting movements are almost like dance movements to the music.
Through this action she fragments “both movement and time into tiny units. When these movements are reunited into a total movement and time we notice that this does not restore continuity, but a linearity that leaves otherwise imperceptible gestures and instants distinct. ” (p. 53, Neo-Baroque: a sign of the times, Princeton UP, 1992). As the beat continues the diva’s voice becomes almost electrified in an ironic collaboration of nature and technology in an attempt to progress the baroque into the future; as the villain of the movie says, “I know this music.