I came, I saw, I had a cheeseburger
Sunday 20 June 1993
After half an hour, hungry, I went to get some beer and crisps from the shop up the road, walking past half-empty Indian, Chinese and Italian restaurants. When I got back, we had advanced a few feet - enough, if we craned our necks, to see the motorcycle ridden by Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon in the lobby, to get close to the Planet Hollywood officials, wearing the brashly cheerful, logo- etched Planet Hollywood uniform.
Inside, much later, we took our place in another queue, roped off, guarded, with a view of part of the central hall. The roof twinkled with points of light; screens exploded with lurid clips from action movies. People were shouting, the staff talking to each other on mobile phones. Next to me, on the wall in a perspex case, was the knife used by Sylvester Stallone in Rambo III. The very knife. Across the corridor, in another perspex case, was the Arctic Parka worn by Bruce Willis in Die Hard 2. It was bluish, a little ripped, with a label: 'Arctic parka. Flight type. Not Endangered species. Dry Clean Only.' Crass, certainly. But how could it be crass to be interested in it? It's like looking at Roman remains, except for the fact that it's actually fascinating, actually relevant. This is part of the most powerful imperialism in history; I've seen people in Bruce Willis T-shirts in four continents. Next to the Arctic Parka was Mel Gibson's flak jacket from Lethal Weapon, with the genuine fake bullet holes you see in the film; then there was Errol Flynn's battered old leather smock from the 1938 movie Robin Hood. And the jacket worn by Orson Welles in Citizen Kane. Okay? Is that not fascinating? The jacket worn by the star of perhaps, or at least in many people's opinion, the best movie ever made? Think how many people have seen that jacket, and not remembered it. I certainly didn't remember it. It's striped. It looks really old. Next time I see the film I'll look out for it.
I was hungry. The people in the queue beside me were hungry. But we weren't hungry for food; not exactly. We wanted this knife, this flak jacket, this smock. And did I tell you about the axe? Remember Jack Nicholson in The Shining, in one of his craziest roles, when he spends half the movie with a weirdly blank, benign smile, and then goes mad, attacking his family, breaking down the door with an axe? Here it is, labelled 'rubber stunt axe used in the film'. This is really it, this is the axe you see in the famous publicity poster. And here, on the wall, is the high-school yearbook of 'Thomas C Mapother IV', who has the shortest hair of his contemporaries, and credits for 'Varsity wrestling, Varsity soccer, Varsity club, Key club.' This is how Tom Cruise was, before anybody could have dreamed of his present celebrity, a smudge of his pre-fame face; he smiles, and wears a tie with a knot the size of an orange.
We were led to our table and offered a choice of cocktails. I had a Dirty Harry; so did Angela. She said: 'I'd like a Dirty Harry.' The waiter said: 'Wouldn't we all?' She had chicken fajitas, a Mexican dish of grilled chicken cut into strips and eaten with chilli sauce in thin pancakes. I had a cheeseburger. As we ate, cheerful action clips spooled away to the sound of disco music: somebody putting a hand over somebody's mouth; a man falling through water; a man bulging a bicep; Arnold Schwarzenegger hitting somebody so hard he flies through a window; Stone Age people fighting, an explosion, a long screen kiss, John Belushi playing a guitar, motorbikes, cars, things flashing, blowing up, more people kissing. A few feet away, a woman climbed up on to her table and danced, slowly, holding a bottle of tomato ketchup. The waiter came up and said: 'I'd recommend the white chocolate bread pudding.'
In the lavatory, as I was looking for the soap, an attendant darted out and squirted some into my hand. Another attendant said: 'What are you eating? Have you had your first course yet?'
'What did you have?'
'What was it like?'
'It was . . . fabulous]' I was getting into the spirit.
'Great] And what about - what about dessert?'
'I'm having the, the bread pudding]'
The first attendant chimed in: 'I envy you] The bread pudding] That would be my choice]'
There were maybe 30 colognes and perfumes: Eau Sauvage, Obsession, Eternity. That was why the place smelled so funny - a mixture of char-grilling and scent. I ate my bread pudding, watching clips from King Ralph and Lethal Weapon (II? III?) with Mel Gibson possibly on the motorcycle in the Planet Hollywood lobby, right underneath where I was sitting.
And then I walked out, slowly, past the Gladstone bag used in License to Kill, which contains a tube of toothpaste, a shaving brush, a razor, two mouse traps and a tube of Pritt, past the sand-scratched Webley pistol used by Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, the glasses worn by Jessica Tandy in Driving Miss Daisy, and Spock's ear-tips, 'specially rare, since they have not been marred by glue- seams', and out into the tacky, pulsing, kiosk- lined, billboard-decked theme-park that is the West End of London. But I was feeling good; now I knew there was some escape from this dross; I'd seen something real. And the hamburger was fine, it really was.
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