Night Falls on Termite Art
As a film writer, there are people you like and people who interest you. I like Jimmy Stewart; I'm interested by Arnold Schwarzenegger. When someone you like makes a movie, you want to see it; when someone who interests you makes a movie, you have to see it. And right now, there is no person in Hollywood more interesting than M. Night Shyamalan.
Again, I do not like him; to my mind, he's made about 1.75 good movies: the effectively chilling Sixth Sense, the half of Unbreakable where things happened beyond people moping in dingy Philadelphia basements, and the first twenty minutes of Signs. I have read a few defenses of Shyamalan's The Village that argue it is a movie of ideas but no amount of ideas can disguise a plot that is, at best, the most boring one I have ever encountered at 1:00 AM on Encore (And I have seen 3000 Miles to Graceland at 1:00 AM on Encore).
You can deny his ability to make a movie that is more entertaining than it is pretentious, but you can't deny that the guy is fascinating. From the peculiar name (Not simply "Night" but "M. Night" as if he is some sort of well-traveled French royal), to his penchant for wearing button down shirts that expose his manly chest hair, as he did earlier tonight in an awkward yet mesmerizing appearance on The Daily Show, Shyamalan lives the life of a man who truly believes he is the star of his movies.
Shyamalan films are so achingly serious and moreover so serious about their own seriousness that his appearance on a program like The Daily Show made for particularly delirious television. Jon Stewart tosses him goofball questions with tongue buried deeply in cheek (sample: "You seem so haunted by dreams!") and Night nods and Mmmhmms as if he's on Inside the Actors Studio. Dude isn't in on the joke. Dude truly believes he is haunted by dreams (even if, as he explains, he doesn't have dreams because his brain gets such a workout writing all day long).
My interest in Shyamalan is only enhanced by the appearance of a book about his struggle to get his latest picture, Lady in the Water (which opens Friday), financed and produced. The book is called, in all seriousness, The Man Who Heard Voices and it suggests, in all seriousness, that Shyamalan is some sort of earthbound god of entertainment and, perhaps, all human kind. Granted, I haven't read the book; merely the excerpt in the recent issue of Entertainment Weekly where Night finds the Lady screenplay rejected by his former employers at Disney for the very reasons every critic who has seen the movie has criticized him for, as well as the delightful review of the book by The New York Times' Janet Maslin. The quotations are incredible. Author Michael Bamberger is just as awed by Shyamalan's chest hair as I am: "Night's shirt was half open — Tom Jones in his prime," he writes according to Maslin. And he seems to find no fault in a man sending his personal assistant on a cross-country journey on the weekend so that the screenplay can be read in secret (the assistant must not go to the bathroom on the flight, for fear of anyone getting their hands on the script).
That Shyamalan would authorize and participate in such an endeavor as this book speaks volumes to his character, or at least the public representation of his character. Here is a man who has completely, utterly, and without a single hint of irony, bought into his own hype. If he didn't think of himself as "The Next Spielberg" before Newsweek proclaimed him so, he certainly does now. Or better yet, how about Spielberg: The Old Shyamalan. Even Spielberg doesn't take possessive above-the-title credit (as in "M. Night Shyamalan's Signs"), and Spielberg's never cast himself in any of his movies (even though he is amazing in The Blues Brothers).
And so I will see Lady in the Water. I don't want to. But I will. Possibly at 1:00 AM on Encore.