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The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan (2004)

This odd project seems to have been an attempt to make a publicity-friendly documentary to tie in with a film (The Village) which wanted to keep plot details secret until the release - but, at two hours, it's too long to be a good joke, and too shallow to deliver much of anything else. Nathaniel Kahn, coming off My Architect, is in his home-town Philadelphia to do a Sci-Fi Channel documentary on M. Night Shyamalan and has trouble with the touchy, reticent subject - what works well is that 'Night' walks off in a quiet huff but has his publicist (Ilana Levine, who played a similar role in Altman's Tanner '88) do the tantrum - and finds access blocked. Kahn delves deeper into the director's background and unearths personal material (a childhood drowning experience, a haunting, some symbolic crows) that relate to his three famous films to date (no one mentions Praying With Anger and Wide Awake, the real blanks in his c.v.). It would be more effective if, say, the film suggested terrible things about its subject, that he's a possessed alien supervillain who sacrifices people to gain success, but it boils down to a few quietly spooky but hardly revelatory bits. If this weren't fiction, it wouldn't really matter... and it goes on and on and on. On the plus side, a lot of non-pros like Kahn and Shyamalan give very naturalistic performances and Johnny Depp is funny, cast as himself - a big star who backed out of Signs for some vague reason.

First published in this form here.

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