Film Commentary

M. Night Shyamalan is Jaded

August 9, 2010

Has M. Night become a self-important prick?  This YouTube video seems to think so.

I myself had no idea.  If you thought mirrors never lie, neither does YouTube, apparently.

OK, three observations:

Firstly: What, in part, arguably differentiates a good artist from a bad one?  The grace at which he or she can responsibly process all manner of feedback from the media, particularly when your current big-ticket offering is almost unanimously met with widespread disapproval and bewilderment.  Yeah, it really blows when your work is being received with abject criticism.  It hurts the cojones.  It aches, throbs, palpitates.

But don’t tell a journalist that, if you were her, you would “kill yourself” for asking a question that was unfavorable to a blockbuster-hopeful you’re trying to promote.  Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the press conference?

For that, M. Night’s publicist should have committed suicide for not sitting next to him during the press conference to kick his over-inflated testicles underneath the table every time he was about to say something remarkably stupid.

Secondly, M. Night’s befuddling response to the reporter at the Mexico City press conference only proves indicative of the marrow-deep insecurities that have accrued within the disturbed artist (an increasingly discredited one) ever since his work began faltering in 2004’s The Village.   I can understand M. Night’s frustration.  The critical elite can be as uplifting a gospel choir of hosannas as they can be damning — banishing you into soulless obscurity (where Jerry Bruckheimer lives).  But, in the end (as a mainstream artist), you have to be ready for critical dissonance and negative feedback; and you must (must must) remain cucumber cool, collected and reasonable.  You have to be willing to consider different perspectives — perhaps different alternatives to the execution of your work.

In fact, it’s not that M. Night’s style is coming into question (or that critics are asking that he change it), it’s the competency at which he facilitates his desired technique that is being put into question.  This technique was successful before; there is no reason (barring his recalcitrance and pride) that it could not work again, given that the writing is solid.

The execution of a work of art is in constant flux, and it should forever stay that way.

It’s how you grow as an artist.

There is nothing wrong with being immovably proud of your own product (considering all the hard, back-breaking work and money that goes into creating a film in the first place, which most critics are inept at doing anyway [which might explain their career decisions]). And there is nothing wrong with noting its critical successes overseas either (that is, outside of North America).

But (come on, you knew the “but” was coming), when your M. Night, the last thing you want to do for yourself is generate more vitriolic publicity.

Just consider SlashFilm’s Russ Fischer and his experience of how the previews for Devil are being met by audiences:

From Empire comes the poster for Devil, produced by M. Night Shyamalan from his own story idea and directed by the Dowdle Brothers. I like this poster a lot, but the movie faces a serious uphill climb. The three times I’ve seen the trailer in theaters, the appearances of Night’s name have caused groans, then laughter. Anne Thompson even demands that Universal and MRC take Shyamalan’s name off the trailer, based on the uproarious response it got in Hall H at Comic Con.


Thirdly, Jackson Rathbone might as well have performed anilingus on Shyamalan, because (in this video) M. Night’s salad was being tossed.  Look, it’s Rathbone, the ventriloquist doll.

Now a confession: I never liked The Sixth Sense (never never never), for a variety of reasons.  The only one I’ll iterate here is that I predicted the twist before it happened, and as a result, the experience was quite the yawn of a ghost story by the campfire.

Yet, 2,000 marked the year that I became an M. Night enthusiast, when he released his remarkable opus de escapism, Unbreakable (his best and most unique film, in my opinion), and consequently, Signs (a thrilling and heartfelt homage to War of the Worlds).  This was M. Night at the peak of his abilities.  The problem that arose with The Village was Shyamalan’s obsessive-compulsive fixation on hairpin plot twists near or during a denouement, a device that soon resembled a heaving, wheezy one-trick pony — one that only seemed forced by 2004.  This favored trope became an obligation to signature over the operative purpose it truly served to bolster the impact of the story.  And, by The Village, the pretzel-warp twists were increasingly becoming rote, less-subtle and painfully unbelievable (to a point where a suspension of disbelief was nigh on impossible).

My admiration for Unbreakable remains evergreen, however, and I still cherish the collector’s edition DVD.  I look at this film and fondly recall better, humbler times for M. Night Shyamalan.

(Let’s just pretend The Happening never happened, OK?  Shhh.  Shhh.  It was just a bad dream, Haley Joel Osment.  Shhh.)

I miss the “unbreakable” M. Night.  Where did that guy go?

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  • Reply ronnie August 12, 2010 at 2:59 pm


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