By David Poland firstname.lastname@example.org
M. Night Shyamalan: WATER Baby
At least Uwe Boll has some sense of humor about the bad reviews he gets. (A twisted, bullyboy sense of humor…but it’s there.)
M. Night Shyamalan, however, has no no sense of perpective –or humor — whatsoever: in his next film, he mauls a movie critic.
Still smarting from the bad reviews and not-so-great fan reactions he got for THE VILLAGE, Shyamalan moaned about how Disney executives — who’d backed his breakthrough movie THE SIXTH SENSE, his follow up film UNBREAKABLE and the spooky/ridiculous/aliens-sans-culottes saga SIGNS, didn’t “get” his vision for THE VILLAGE.
Casting himself as a wronged auteur–but one unable to cope with the possibility that upon his shoulders fell the responsiblity for this disappointing, derivative movie- Shyamalan collaborated with writer Michael Bamberger in the whine-all book, The Man Who Heard Voices, Or How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale. (Penguin USA, $27. 50) It’ll be out the same week as Shyamalan’s new film, THE LADY IN THE WATER, the don’t-mention-Splash drama in which Paul Giamatti finds a “sea nymph” (not at all a mermaid) in his swimming pool.
I have only one hope for this book: that it might become this decade’s equivalent of the Klaus Kinski autobiography ALL I NEED IS LOVE. (1988), The late actor’s petulant, crazy-ass, unintentionally hilarious monomania monologue classic, first published in 1988, was republished in the in the US as KINSKI UNCUT (TK, 1997). (Cintra Wilson writes of the Kinski experience in Salon. Sample quotes: “I am like a wild animal born in captivity, in a zoo. But where a beast would have claws, I have talent.” and “I VANT AMAHNDA!” (Amanda’s roommates: “Amanda’s not here, Mr. Kinski? She’s not here.”)
Fingers crossed. But an actor on a lifelong sex tour doesn’t quite compare to a profound business and creative disagreement between film studio executives between a talented writer-director who hasn’t heard the word No lately.
Which voices does the title refer to, when the only voice Shyamalan listens to is his own?
In the LA Times story, it’s astonishing to read about how a major director takes criticism from those who would put up the $70 million to make his movie. These studio executives aren’t throwing out obnoxious ideas about whom to cast, or saying “can’t we make it more of a love story?”–they’re not even saying, “This sounds too much like Splash, and mermaids aren’t scary.” It sounds as though what they wanted was one rewrite. And for all those millions, that’s not much to ask for. As for the gratuitous mauling of a character who is a movie critic/story analyst with the LADY IN THE WATER plot: it’s a petty, inside baseball thing — so on the nose/obvious that any director, writer or studio executive who read the script might laughed and then said, take it out in the next draft.
It’s like in a disaster movie, where the tornadoes have already hit the city, and the dumbo-blowdry weather forecaster is throwing suns with smiley faces on the map, calling for for “Sunny skies, with no chance of showers–a perfect beach day!”" And whammo, a killer wind tears through, destroying the building, killing him. Ha ha. Because everyone hates stupid weathermen–they’re always talking and being wrong! Juvenile.
Because some shit floats, and some sinks like a stone, and audiences can figure out the difference.
The preview audience with whom I saw The Village was desperate to “get” the movie-indeed, we were, as a group, enchanted — for about fifteen minutes — by the beauty and mystery of the film. Right up until the appearance of a frankly ridiculous looking figure wearing a red, woven wool cape with claws and a bony spine. What the fuck? Apparently Those We Do Not Speak Of are semiprimitive , homicidal monster-people, but they’re doing fabulous, ingenous things with textiles this season.
Those of us who weren’t sitting there in stunned silence were either groaning in disappointment or trying to suppress laughter. A collective bullshit alarm had gone off, and we’d all been awakened. That the plot resembled an episode of The Twilight Zone and (as was subsequently revealed) a popular young adult novel) didn’t help matter. The spell was broken.
Yet anyone who casts himself as an auteur, as Shyamalan has, had better be prepared to accept total blame as well as total credit when a movie goes over poorly. Like the crybaby he is, Shyamalan blames studio executives–even though he famously refused to let them read his script for The Village.
Maybe if he had, someone would have pointed out that how flawed it was? No matter how beguiling the first fifteen minutes of THE VILLAGE is, with its painterly, tense portrait of an isolated, Luddite community in late 19th Centuy garb– don’t give the audience a full hour to wonder why those characters — rural Americans — made had a hysterical conversation about germs and how they need Penicillin to cure someone of an infection. That’s a forty or fifty year fast forward and a big cultural shift: and the movie’s not half over. (Also: Those We Don’t Speak Of: Claws. Ridgeback. Must have been tough to customize that red cowl)
Claudia Eller writes Sunday in the Los Angeles Times that Shyamalan fell out with Disney producer Nina Jacobson and her studio boss Dick Cook when she (Jacobson) gave the director a “frank critique” of his script for LADY IN THE WATER. Writes Eller, “Shyamalan was heartbroken. Things got only worse when she lambasted his inclusion of a mauling of a film critic in the story line and told Shyamalan his decision to cast himself as a visionary writer out to change the world bordered on self-serving.”