It’s shameful and it’s sad this en masse critical ass-whupping given to poor old M. Night Shyamalan over his second turkey in a row, THE HAPPENING (which would be a great title if it starred Peter Sellers or Russ Tamblyn, and was made in 1967). What do they expect, I wonder, from a man who started plastering his name around with a presumptuous solemnity befitting some long dead, highly prolific master, such as Poe, Kafka, Ozu before he even made a second decent film? SIXTH SENSE was a twisty ghost story that surprised all the people in the world who had never seen CARNIVAL OF SOULS. But then came UNBREAKABLE, THE VILLAGE (which I haven’t even seen TEENAGE CAVEMAN and I could guess the ending for), and the odious SIGNS (aliens travel through space just to enjoy hanging out in pantries and crawlspaces like two dollar bogeymen.)
The SIXTH SENSE made millions, but that phat bank must have since gone up in several consecutive bombs and self-aggrandizement. Film after film, we see Shamaylan buying into his own hype-the pinnacle for which comes in the form of his infamous American Express commercial. We turn away in shame, because we recognize ourselves, how we might behave if fame came too fast too soon, as it did for the mighty Shyamalan.
As Cecil B. DeMille put it in SUNSET BOULEVARD, “A dozen press agents working overtime can do terrible things to the human spirit.” For Shyamalan the press agents helped crown him the Indian-American king of rainy urban horror… hell, I wont argue that Shyamalan begot the whole genre of J-Horror as we know it (the rainy cities and VHS-watching dead people combo!) Seen via the warped lens of the press as ann Indian-American cross between Jean Cocteau, Stephen King and William Castle, Shamylan was suddenly a household word… the new press darling when the smart thing for him to do would have been to run away from all that pigeon-holing. The pigeons never realize that once the press gets them in a hole, they bury the cocka-roaches, but poor Shamalyan went for it like a duck to whiskey, if I may mix animistic metaphors and Scarface quotes.
He’s not the only one to get all embarrassingly co-dependent and validation-hungry on celluloid… though I don’t want to name names… Robin Williams, Kevin Spacey and Charlie Chaplin all had the same problem, but all seemed to have pulled out of it. We’ll see if Shyamalan ever can. One worries that he’s not in the same league as the Williams, Spacey, or even Waldo Lydecker. I haven’t seen SENSE since it was in the theaters, but even then I knew most of its success as a film came from the brilliant ensemble work of Osment, Willis and Toni Collette and not the script, direction or dramatic impetus. I dated a girl from near Philly and Collette was so perfect as a Philly girl with that accent that my heart jumped. I thought Osment was MY kid, and no one told me. And I was dead, and any minute he could turn and see me watching from across the screen.
But from then on… what the fuck? see my point. And if you look at the script, the scenes and dialogue, THE SIXTH SENSE is horrible… that whole business with the tape of the mom poisoning her kid? That’s the sort of plot a real writer hatches in grammar school, reading FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC with his cute cousins. They might act it out for the indulgent parents in a basement spook show, but they’d never dream of foisting it on the American public.
Now I’ll say right out that there are good ways to go about with childhood arrested whimsical deluded “never had an editior” storytelling. That way is embodied in the oeuvre of the great Sam Fuller. But Samuel Fuller was too real a deal to ever need to pretend to the league of the esteemed honorable M. Night Shyamalan. Just give Fuller his typewriter and a cigar and he was fine. Shyamalan is so needy and bad one wonders if he can even write without someone to stroke his keys for him.
M. Night! it sounds like he’s Batman’s cousin or a spy in a Thomas Pynchon novel. Now, Samuel Fuller is a real name; Fuller landed on D-Day. Shamalyan would show D-Day by having the Nazis steal a teddy bear from Joaquim Phoenix. You feel me?
If I sound cruel, it’s only for his own good in the long run. Bullies are needed to tease and taunt the favorited, for bringing down a peg or two is one of the great gifts you can give a person. Once an ego runs unfettered long enough to gain momentum, the only way to stop it is with a tackle and a dragging through the mud.
It’s not M. Night’s fault really, is my point. The siren song of media is sweet to the ear– how simple and easy to become the set of easy signifiers the lazy journalists paint you in? The only problem is, they help you climb the perch and get a crowd to gather, and then they sell them eggs to throw at you. Oh Shyamalan, you fool! You eternal sucker at the troph of ego. Oh mighy critics, next time you throw a rock at a director who dared to dream too big for his britches, ask yourself, who convinced him he should? Wasn’t it you? Shouldn’t you have to go watch THE HAPPENING? Again and again and again?
See below that infamous American Express ad:[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Skw-rKYsXOY]