The Bond movie “Spectre” is out. I don’t need to be told that Bond movies follow a classic format in which the hero, prior to going to war, visits a priestly magician who gives him a cloak of invisibility, potions to make him strong, a range of wondrous weapons and a cunningly hidden panic button which raises him to safety from the ravening jaws of the Furies. It’s a movie, after all: great fun, great car chases, beautiful women, beautiful photography: five travelogues in search of a plot.
Towards the end, the boss of the good guys, depressed at being dispossessed of his job and cast out of his MI5 headquarters, is seen on his own, nursing a final late dinner glass of wine in a traditional London restaurant. “Rules” I muttered to my esteemed companion, though she did not believe me till the final departing shot of the rainy street showed the restaurant name.
Established in 1798, Rules is London’s oldest restaurant. On being shown to our table last night I complimented the affable Oscar on having seen him in the Bond movie the night before. “It was me” he exclaimed in delight: three days spent in filming the specially artificially fogged and softly lit interior; carrying in, for scene after scene, one of 20 glasses one third full of blackberry juice: so continuity was preserved as the film team sought the perfect picture. Best of all, he said, was looking down Maiden Lane at night, as the sprinklers created artificial rain so that it glistened on the road surface for the street lights, such that at the end, (in my view) London became the central character of the film.
Talking of the process of making a movie, Oscar repeated the amazed reaction, so similar to scientists talking to journalists: “they spent so much time, and used so little of the material!” He was dismayed that three days of hard work resulted in a mere few seconds of movie, lost in the blink of an eye. Of course, those few believable seconds, multiplied by the global audience, result in a cumulative many years of bewitching vicarious experience. For example, Skyfall had a runtime of 2 hours 23 minutes, cost $200 million and grossed $304 million. So, cost of production is $1.4 million per minute shown, revenues are $2.13 million per minute watched.
Now, you and I know that we have been watching a movie. However, I still had some interest, however minor, that the table next to us was “the Bond table”. The ever informative Oscar said everyone now wanted to book that table. I plaintively said I preferred the table we had last time, pointing to one against the other wall. “Ah” he replied “the Downton Abbey table”. I demurred, saying we liked it because it was comfortable and had a good view of the chiming clock, but he continued: “Americans always want that one”. Rules figured in one of the early series, and apparently in one shown last week, so that table has become special.
Why such proneness to superstitious behaviour? Is celebrity the positive side of contamination rituals? Fame by association requires us to touch that which the gods themselves have handled. The disparaging reaction against celebrity is to sneer at such credulity. The tables are just tables, the decorations delightful in themselves, with no need of the imprimatur of a film. The deeper story is that stories move us, and our suspension of disbelief is only partial: if art enthrals us then it sinks deeper, into our imaginative souls, partly transforming us into the hero, apt to believe we are capable of his feats, and are quietly recognised for our hidden depths and dark abilities.
Leaving the cinema two nights ago I walked the midnight streets with like a coiled spring, on guard against assailants. One finally loomed up, shaven headed, wide of build, in a tight fitting black suit. This part of London has a few bodyguards, mostly Russian, dour of character and glowering of countenance, so I adopted a defensive posture. This particular living and breathing lethal asset was the local restaurant doorkeeper/bouncer, with more claim to coiled-ness of spring than me, and himself a welcome neighbourly resource on dark nights, standing on guard whilst chatting to a taxi driver seated in his cab awaiting the eventual departure of late diners.
So, the real life event was a slightly unreal convivial conversation, on an otherwise deserted pavement, between two returning film buffs, a Polish doorman who knew exactly who had attended the recent West End premier of the film, and an East End cabbie who gently debated my view that Daniel Craig has now surpassed Sean Connery as the ultimate James Bond. Who says art has no purpose? Ian Fleming, who lived nearby in Carlyle Mansions would have been pleased, if not stirred.