the descent of M. Night Shyamalan


There’s a certain sort of person who will take a flashlight and go into a field of corn in the dark, but they only exist in the movies. I always think of those characters when I think of movie people in general: even in what is called real life, where people tend to have opinions and heart conditions and mortgages, film directors are largely unreal people who behave in unnatural ways. Especially in the first years after a big success, film directors of a certain sort are given to acting like geniuses, partly because a lot of desperate people have called them geniuses, but the conditions of success can serve to push them further and further away from their talent.

If a bright young director survives this malarkey and makes a second great hit, in Hollywood he is no longer a genius but a prophet. His relationship with reality is then likely to be beyond talking about, and unlike the successful novelist, say, or the smart young painter, a director (owing to his relationship with millions of dollars and a prideful notion of the masses) will often disappear in a miasma of tasteless lunacy. There have been many such messianic disasters in the history of cinema and they each have two big movies to their name, followed either by silence, rehab, cameo appearances, adverts, jail or, if they’re lucky, B-movies. William Friedkin made The French Connection and The Exorcist and was nominated for several Oscars before climbing to the top of his personal godhead and leaping off. Last year he directed Episode 9 in the eighth season of the TV show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

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