The Breakfast Table

With Demi Moore as Beatrice


A sequel to Casablanca?! You and I are upset by this (it goes without saying that Rick and Ilse get back together in the new version, doesn’t it?), but Umberto Eco must really be pissed. Some time ago he was moved to attack this film in a vicious little essay reeking of Euro-superiority, his main point being (as I recall) that the plot was ridiculous. Thus did the great man embarrass himself by revealing the soul of a clerk. Criticizing the plot of Casablanca is like making fun of the plot in an opera while remaining tone deaf to the grandeur of the thing.

Ah, Hollywood. Leon Botstein says commentary on America’s schools has always been marked by nostalgia and pessimism, and thinking about the movies tends to be very much the same. Yet it’s hard to imagine that things aren’t really getting worse. Awhile ago, during a lonely sojourn in the eastern suburbs of Seattle, I passed an evening watching Von Ryan’s Express. A fairly typical Hollywood war movie, right? Wrong. Not just a riveting thriller but a genuine moral tragedy–the kind of picture, in other words, that couldn’t possibly come out of Hollywood today.

Today what Hollywood gives us is Planet Hollywood, featuring “Captain Crunch coated, deep-fried chicken strips,” according to the devastating Page One story in today’s Wall Street Journal, which implies that Planet Hollywood is becoming as empty as Uranus and may be just as much fun. Business at the restaurant chain is sinking fast in part because stars don’t hang out there (this is especially surprising to learn of the chain’s outlet in Gurnee Mills, Ill.). Also, the food evidently is revolting. Even the company’s new president says that, before he was hired, “I wouldn’t eat the damn stuff.” Planet Hollywood went public at $32.13 a share, touted by analysts who “likened its brand name potential to Starbucks, Disney and Nike.” Yesterday it closed below $4.

I admit it, this story made me deliriously happy. But more broadly, what’s so interesting about it is the naked disdain it reveals on the part of the moneyed elites toward the great mass of people, who are expected to flock to bad restaurants just because they are owned by rich movie stars. I have a theory about this: I think white collar types today are less involved than ever in the direct production of anything, and therefore less invested in rustic notions like “quality” or “value.” They know that marketing is everything, and so the people who consume the junk they produce are seen more and more as marks–so gullible and susceptible to brainwashing that the only thing worth putting any effort into is manipulation. I guess it’s understandable why they should think this, but it makes me sick nonetheless. How about a sequel to Dante’sInferno, in which these assholes find themselves in a noisy and badly lit chain restaurant, eating from a bottomless dish of deep-fried chicken strips and paying $18 again and again for T-shirts to advertise the place.

I’m thinking Robin Williams as Virgil. You think his agent will go for it?