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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest Forrest@moviecitynews.com

How the Mighty Have Fallen…

Two times in the past week, I’ve gone to the movie theater and seen the preview for Devil.  Both times,  I thought the trailer was well-cut, moody, and effective.  And both times, the audience started giggling as soon as they saw M. Night Shyamalan’s name on the screen.  By no means am I a fan of the man’s recent output – in fact, I’d go so far as to say that the films he’s made since Signs have all been somewhat embarrassing travesties – but I don’t root for anyone’s failure.  I think Shyamalan is clearly a talented individual who has made at least one excellent film (Unbreakable) and one very good one (The Sixth Sense), but I don’t think anything has really changed in him.  I don’t think he’s a different kind of storyteller now, I just think he hasn’t evolved as a filmmaker.  Some chalk it up to an out-sized ego – and certainly there’s proof of that – but I’m not going to play amateur psychologist and assume that’s the case.  I think he is very comfortable making films the way he makes them and doesn’t see that much of a need to listen to outside opinions.

Having said all that, Universal should be more aware of what has happened to the M. Night Shyamalan over the last few years.  I don’t think it’s right that people are laughing at Shyamalan’s producer credit on Devil, but I also don’t think it’s smart for the marketing folks to prominently display the name of a man who has tarnished his brand in the eyes of most moviegoers.  One could point to the $130 million that The Last Airbender grossed, but that film had a built-in audience and still couldn’t make its budget back.

Devil is a smaller film that needs word of mouth and positive buzz.  It seems to be set almost entirely in an elevator with an outlandish premise, but the trailer is cut so well that it intrigued me and I don’t know why the studio would risk putting Shyamalan’s name in lights.  Let’s all hope the film is good and that it is step one in Shyamalan getting back into our good graces.  Step two is letting someone else write his scripts.

One Response to “How the Mighty Have Fallen…”

  1. Jeremy says:

    I have seen this trailer in theatres 5 or 6 times and it is true, every time his name comes up, the audience laughs or boos. And I’m always the guy in the back row screaming “The twist is that he’s been a shitty director the whole time!” I liked Sixth Sense and Unbreakable too, and thought Signs was a guilty pleasure, but the rest have been junk. I saw The Happening opening night, and the audience treated it like it was The Room–no joke. They didn’t throw spoons, but they hurled insults at the screen whenever they could.

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MAMET
Well, that, to me, is always the trick of dramaturgy; theoretically, perfectly, what one wants to do is put the protagonist and the audience in exactly the same position. The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always what does the protagonist want. That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants. What gives rise to the drama, what is the precipitating event, and how, at the end of the play, do we see that event culminated? Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated? That’s the structure of drama. You break it down into three acts.

INTERVIEWER
Does this explain why your plays have so little exposition?

MAMET
Yes. People only speak to get something. If I say, Let me tell you a few things about myself, already your defenses go up; you go, Look, I wonder what he wants from me, because no one ever speaks except to obtain an objective. That’s the only reason anyone ever opens their mouth, onstage or offstage. They may use a language that seems revealing, but if so, it’s just coincidence, because what they’re trying to do is accomplish an objective… The question is where does the dramatist have to lead you? Answer: the place where he or she thinks the audience needs to be led. But what does the character think? Does the character need to convey that information? If the answer is no, then you’d better cut it out, because you aren’t putting the audience in the same position with the protagonist. You’re saying, in effect, Let’s stop the play. That’s what the narration is doing—stopping the play… It’s action, as Aristotle said. That’s all that it is—exactly what the person does. It’s not what they “think,” because we don’t know what they think. It’s not what they say. It’s what they do, what they’re physically trying to accomplish on the stage. Which is exactly the same way we understand a person’s character in life—not by what they say, but by what they do. Say someone came up to you and said, I’m glad to be your neighbor because I’m a very honest man. That’s my character. I’m honest, I like to do things, I’m forthright, I like to be clear about everything, I like to be concise. Well, you really don’t know anything about that guy’s character. Or the person is onstage, and the playwright has him or her make those same claims in several subtle or not-so-subtle ways, the audience will say, Oh yes, I understand their character now; now I understand that they are a character. But in fact you don’t understand anything. You just understand that they’re jabbering to try to convince you of something.
~ David Mamet

INTERVIEWER
Do you outline plays before you start to write them?

PINTER
Not at all. I don’t know what kind of characters my plays will have until they…well, until they are. Until they indicate to me what they are. I don’t conceptualize in any way. Once I’ve got the clues I follow them—that’s my job, really, to follow the clues.

INTERVIEWER
What do you mean by clues? Can you remember how one of your plays developed in your mind—or was it a line-by-line progression?

PINTER
Of course I can’t remember exactly how a given play developed in my mind. I think what happens is that I write in a very high state of excitement and frustration. I follow what I see on the paper in front of me—one sentence after another. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a dim, possible overall idea—the image that starts off doesn’t just engender what happens immediately, it engenders the possibility of an overall happening, which carries me through. I’ve got an idea of what might happen—sometimes I’m absolutely right, but on many occasions I’ve been proved wrong by what does actually happen. Sometimes I’m going along and I find myself writing “C. comes in” when I didn’t know that he was going to come in; he had to come in at that point, that’s all.
~ Harold Pinter

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