The Great Dictator ; When M Night Shyamalan Hit the Big Time with His First Film, 'The Sixth Sense', Disney Reckoned the 29-Year-Old a Genius. the Studio Gave Him Lots of Money and Anything Else He Wanted - Three Films Later, Its Patience Was Wearing Thin. and Then It Read the Script for 'Lady in the Water'. David Thomson Tells a Tale of Hollywood, Creativity and Monstrous Egos
Thomson, David, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
There's a wisdom in the film studio system that if you : an arrogant, impossible-director, give him as freedom as possible he'll turn in a horror show' I mean a film so bad no one will take the young monster seriously again. And so the studio system retains some part of its authority by making very bad films.
Take M Night Shyamalan and Lady in the Water. Or - as the cinema- goers in the US have determined - don't take them. Shyamalan, or Night as he has come to be called (it carries a clearer note of doom), is still only 36. He is Indian, very smart, the son of two doctors and something of a prodigy. The most striking evidence of this is The Sixth Sense, which opened when he was only 29. This is the film with Haley Joel Osment, Bruce Willis and Toni Collette. It is, ostensibly, a horror film, yet it takes a very unexpected and humane turn. It surprised everyone and captivated the business. The film came out of nowhere and made a fortune, and the business responded in its usual way by telling Night he was a genius and throwing contracts and money at him. What do you want to do next? they asked. Sometimes in the history of the movie business that question has a ready answer: Steven Spielberg has always seemed to know what he wanted to do next - and usually it has worked out. But a lot of men of 29 go silly and vague, because they'd rather like to have and spend the immense amount of money that is coming their way. They are open to being famous, and behaving badly (in America it's hard to have one without the other), and they don't always know what to do next.
Night, I think it is now clear, doesn't know. He made Unbreakable in 2000, a film so obscure that many people gave it the benefit of the doubt. They said it was genius working things out. Then came Signs in 2002, about a family (led by Mel Gibson) unsure about corn circles made near their home. They were not the only uncertain ones. Again, the film possessed an aura of horror and evidence of a fumbled attempt to make something more of it. Yet, plainly, the film had not worked. A fair observer, I think, could and should have said that Night's breakthrough on The Sixth Sense only indicated how difficult it was to get such stories right repeatedly. And, as you may have guessed, Night does his own stories and scripts. The Village (2004) was ridiculous, pathetic.
Once upon a time, after films like Signs and The Village, a young man would have been retired, one way or the other. But Night was allowed to keep making films.
Up to and including The Village, his works had all been made for Disney, where he had an effective, if argumentative, relationship with executive Nina Jacobson. But Jacobson had been harbouring doubts. Night presented her with the script for the next film - in which an apartment building superintendent (Paul Giamatti) finds a sea nymph (Dallas Bryce Howard) in the building swimming pool. The story becomes very strange and spiritual, so Nina Jacobson took a deep breath and said she honestly didn't get it. Did the emperor have any more clothes than the sea nymph? Night could not stand to be challenged. Rather than listen, consider and improve his work, he quit Disney and went over to Warner Brothers -so they are the studio behind his new film Lady in the Water. But at the same time, Night decided to help Michael Bamberger, who was writing a book about him. The help turned into a full-scale attack on Disney and Ms Jacobson for daring to question a genius or come between him and his art. That book appeared just as the new film opened in the US a couple of weeks ago. Night may be a genius, but he does spin very well, too.
And so M Night Shyamalan joins that motley and honorable crew of directors that the film business has first built up and then torn down. As you will see, it is no discredit to be there, for the list includes D W Griffith, Josef von Sternberg, Erich …
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Publication information: Article title: The Great Dictator ; When M Night Shyamalan Hit the Big Time with His First Film, 'The Sixth Sense', Disney Reckoned the 29-Year-Old a Genius. the Studio Gave Him Lots of Money and Anything Else He Wanted - Three Films Later, Its Patience Was Wearing Thin. and Then It Read the Script for 'Lady in the Water'. David Thomson Tells a Tale of Hollywood, Creativity and Monstrous Egos. Contributors: Thomson, David - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent on Sunday (London, England). Publication date: July 3, 2006. Page number: 6. © 2009 The Independent on Sunday. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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