Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Hittin' The Early Homer

I had one of my favorite movie dates one Friday night in the Fall of 1999. My wife and I, having secured a sitter for our young child, were eager to hit the streets for the first time in what seemed like months. (Those of you with young children will understand what I mean by eager to get out of the house. It was a necessity!) After talking Mrs. Film Geek out of hittin' the clubs (I tell you, that chick loves to dance) we agreed to spend the night at the movies.

One this particular Friday night, I compromised with my wife: in exchange for no dancing, we would watch horror flicks, her favorite type of movie. While I don't like horror at all, I like the bright lights even less. So, horror it was. We hit the early showing of The Blair Witch Project, which we really liked (for all the now-obvious reasons), and then we saw The Sixth Sense.

We talked about this movie for days afterwards. It was, for us at least, an instant classic. And the director, this newcomer whose name I couldn't pronounce, was a genius. The next Spielberg. A prodigy who would become a master among otherwise common story-tellers.

M. Night Shyamalan followed up The Sixth Sense with Unbreakable, Signs and The Village. All cashed in well a the box office, and most were reviewed well by critics. His next flick, Lady In The Water opens this weekend, and is getting tons of press.

Mostly though, there seems to be an uneasiness--sort of a nagging feeling, really--that people have with Shyamalan's ongoing body of work: despite the artistic integrity of his flicks and the more-than-acceptable box office, people want The Sixth Sense all over again. They want the hook, the plot they can't figure out. They want the grand slam home run. And they want it now.

Shyamalan writes and directs movies that are true works of art. The pace of his movies remind me of old Hitchcock masterpieces. He creates incredible suspense with interesting camera angles and color. He lets the story unfold, pulling the audience in slowly, but intimately. He has such patience.

I wish the movie audiences had more patience with Shyamalan.


jedi jawa said...

Film Geek you're talking crazy talk! You want moviegoers to transform into book readers and we know that's not going to happen. Movies are more about instant gratification and not gradual development of character and plot points. The thing that usually distinguishes very good movies is that the film maker was able to trick the audience into sitting through such development in order to set up the pay-off. That is not an easy trick!

I agree with you about "Blair Witch" in that what made that film work was the suspense that was lost on home audiences or those who only went to see the film after it had been so talked about that the cat was out of the bag. I saw "The Blair Witch Project" without knowing anything about it when I was attending a WestLaw training in Chicago with some fellow law students. None of us really knew what to expect as the film had just come out and the tension in the packed theater was palpable. The thing that made that film work was that it was a gradual loss of control while those characters become completely lost, broken down, and vulnerable. It is a short step from there to terror.

I agree with you again on Shyamalan's Hitchcockian flair as both are able to do the same sort of psychological spiral to get the audience to where it is going. My wife has an annoying habit of being able to guess the ending in this sort of film and so far she has been stumped by him. I'm looking forward to the next film but I may have to have someone else tell me if it is horrible or not as she isn't a fan of horror (unlike Mrs. Film Geek). Last time my sister had to assure us that it wasn't gruesome before she'd go as the trailers looked pretty scary.

The Film Geek said...

Jedi: Not book readers, but smart. Yeah, I want a smart audience. It may be too high an expectation.

Man, my wife does that annoying habit too. Guessed Identity within 20 minutes, and has a pretty impresive track record for figuring out the hooks. She missed Sixth Sense, though. And I got it. So, I lord that over her often, even after all these years.

Kelly said...

I'm a sucker for a scary movie. I really get into them and will scream out loud (yes, I screamed in the Mothman movie). But the Blair Witch movie made me laugh. It wasn't scary in the slightest. I loved the Sixth Sense...awesome movie!

Hoyt said...

Yeah, I agree with Film Geek that audiences need to be more patient. I also think the critics--like Roger Ebert who gave The Village "one star"--hold Shyamalan to an impossible standard.

Reel Fanatic said...

Great stuff .. I agree with you that M. Night Shyamalan made two truly great films, but I haven't been able to connect with his work since .. Signs was disapponting, and I thought The Village was simplay abhorrent ... I hope Lady in the Water reversed the trend, but it doesn't look promising

The Film Geek said...

Hey Fanatic, thanks for stopping by. Come back often, especially after you see Lady In The Water. Let me know what you thought.

Anonymous said...

Film sure do have the memory of all can you recall all the past events in your life? As many movies as you see, I would think your mind would be blurred. Love your blog...please keep blogging

The Film Geek said...

Hey Anonymous, thanks for the nice comments. I dunno about my memory beign all the great, as I can't often find my car keys, and I typically forget birthdays of folks. But, small things I recall pretty easily. Go figure.

Kelly said...

Why don't you ever thank me for stopping by?

Ian C. said...

TFG, I want to agree with you about Shyamalan, but I think he brings many of those sorts of expectations on himself by touting his past films and trying to insert THE TWIST in each of his subsequent efforts.

What bugs me most about Shyamalan, however, is that he seems to believe his own press clippings and props himself up as a master storyteller beyond reproach. His AmEx ads came across as arrogant to me, and he just authorized a book that criticizes Disney for DARING to question 'Lady in the Water.'

Perhaps this is an unfair gripe of mine, and I should judge his films purely on their own merit, but I don't think they've been good enough for me to get past that.

Cara said...

You forget birthdays? That's odd. Hey Kelly- Thanks for stopping by.

JDB said...

Ian said:
TFG, I want to agree with you about Shyamalan, but I think he brings many of those sorts of expectations on himself by touting his past films and trying to insert THE TWIST in each of his subsequent efforts.

We have a winner! The reason folks want The Sixth Sense over and over again is because that's what Shyamalan gives them. I've only seen Unbreakable and Signs, but I thought both were overly long build ups to a big twist that didn't make much sense. The tension in the build up was fun, but when the payoff doesn't work, you feel cheated for caring.

Oh well, I'm not must of a scary movie guy, anyway.

Jackie Lantern said...

I enjoyed The Sixth Sense and loved Unbreakable, although I think it needs about 40 minutes chopped off of it.

That being said:
I just watched another ad for LITW selling this movie as a scary, goosebump-inducing horror flick. WTF?!? Just because his first successful movie was horror-lite does not give him the right to try to sell all of his subsequent films as horror. These dishonest trailers are what pisses me (and I'm guessing other people) off.

Signs was not a horror movie, The Village and Unbreakable were not horror movies, and neither is LITW for that matter. So why trick me into thinking I'm going to see a horror movie when I'm actually sitting down to watch a two hour long Twilight Zone episode? Is being honest about what you're paying money to watch too much to ask from this guy? I say "this guy" because from what I've read he is responsible for the marketing side of his films.

They aren't bad movies, he's just trying to trick me into seeing them. And I don't appreciate it.

The Film Geek said...

Ian: I understand the frustration with him, really. But I chalk it up to artistic temperment more than arrogance (and really successful artists are often arrogant, so that may be a valid observation). But, I overlook Tarentino for acting like a 14 year old, Altman for coming across as an snobby intellectual, Kubrick for being a recluse, etc. I like their work, really. Wouldn't hang out with many of them, though.

JDB: I've never seen him in an interview play up the twist of a movie. Maybe I've just missed it. But I contend it is the expectation from the public that drives this. But again, I could be wrong.

Jackie: I agree his films aren't horror. Didn't know that the night I spoke about in 1999, but quickly found out his movies were about regular folks in very unusual, irregular circumstances.

jedi jawa said...

I think that I tend to agree that M.Night's films are like a modern mix of "Twilight Zone" and "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and both of these genre defining shows were known for twists, hence that may be why we expect them in his films and why he feels the need to put them there. While a twist that doesn't quite deliver may cause a film to fall flat that isn't a reason not to do them. However, there is something to be said for the effect of a twist if word gets out ahead of time.

My wife used to do behavoiral therapy with adolescent girls and one of those little shits told her the twist in "The Sixth Sense" and then said that it wasn't an integral detail. When one of our friends heard us talking about it she said we might as well not see the film now and she was completely flabbergasted. Well, we rented it and thought it was very well done and enjoyed the commentary track afterwards. I think that "The Sixth Sense" can stand on its own even when you know the twist as can "Unbreakable" but I'm not sure the same can be said of "Signs" or "The Village".

Oh, and I agree with Jackie about marketing the film as horror. We weren't going to see "The Village" until my sister assured us that it was not a horror film. Why do they do that?