or, you’re no Sam Fuller.
“A film is like a battleground; love, hate, action, violence, death. In one word: emotions.”
- Samuel Fuller in Pierrot le Fou (1965 – Jean-Luc Godard)
“I’m a bit wet.”
- Night Shyamalan (probably) in Lady in the Water (2006 – M. Night Shyamalan)
Which is to say; there are director cameos and there are director cameos. Film is so personal to create and so draining to produce and so susceptible to the whims of fragile, over-indulged actors, that it’s unsurprising that directors insist on putting themselves in the frame. (Paul Giamatti is one such actor. He’s the kind of man who turns a limp into a backstory. The worst direction you can imagine giving him is ‘play this with a stammer…’) In modern cinema there are two actors who have obnoxiously put themselves dead centre in their films – M. Night Shyamalan and Quentin Tarantino.
Now, for Tarantino this seems to have stemmed from a genuine passion from acting. Before Reservoir Dogs (1992), he had more success as an actor than a director. If by more success you mean playing the third Elvis in an episode of The Golden Girls and pretending he was in Godard’s King Lear (1987). In his films, and he hasn’t really been cast by others, he plays unexceptional, slightly pathetic characters, over-shadowed by the real talent surrounding him – put-upon husbands and skeevy bartenders who shouldn’t be hanging out with groups of twenty-something women (I suspect his role in Death Proof (2007) is the closest thing we have to an autobiography from him).
Shyamalan however, vaingloriously casts himself as essential – and in the case of Lady in the Water, world-changing. He has on the other hand, used the n-word a lot less on screen.
But Shyamalan realises the nonsense of these cameos. He’s fighting a losing battle – people will always read a writer’s characters as thinly-drawn stand-ins. He could cast Schwarzenegger himself and still be seen to be using them as an embodiment for his own interests and pursuits. The tyranny of auteurism means we can only read movies as expressions of single individuals, and not as collaboratively produced pieces of art by many people that should be free from the heavy hand of an author.
Despite his apparent egomaniacal streak, Shyamalan isn’t a fully oppressive auteur. He didn’t, for instance, hum the thematic melody. No that’s the work of James Newton Howard, shamelessly plagiarising his own work on The Village. But his contribution is as vital as the directors. Can we ever achieve anything by pointing to the signs of the writer’s signature? Do we achieve anything by pointing out the endless stream of deceased families that populate his movies? (I actually think we do – the true horror of Nabakov’s Lolita can only be read in light of his previous explorations of the sickly themes in The Enchanter – because, Jesus, Shyamalan has more dead wives than Leonardo DiCaprio.)
So people hated the film, with its messianic avatar and pathetic film critic. But he brought it upon himself.
Which is a shame, because It’s actually quite a sweet little movie. The strange contrivances of the plot dissipate when the film is considered as an exploration of ordinariness. Despite all his deeply pedestrian observations on religion, Shyamalan is dedicated to how ordinary people bring things to life by brief moments of righteousness. And to be fair, most unsuccessful film critics do deserve to be killed by a ‘scrunt’ – have you seen the Youtube video reviews of this film?
- The Village
- The Sixth Sense
- Lady in the Water