An Unfortunate Hoax
Two filmmakers I admire fell off their pedestals with The Buried Secret of M.Night Shyamalan, a mockumentary originally advertised as an unauthorized biography of the title subject. Both director Nathaniel Kahn and Shyamalan himself disappointed me by taking part in such a ridiculous hoax, one obviously tied to the release of Shyamalan’s eerie movie The Village.
Available now on DVD, The Buried Secret of M.Night Shyamalan first stirred up controversy on the Sci Fi Channel back in July of 2004. Although Sci Fi issued an apology before its release, many people -- including journalists -- thought it was meant as an “in-depth look at the director of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs and The Village.”
The DVD cover still carries that statement, by the way. And there are no bonus features to set the record straight.
Instead, viewers are treated to a faux-Hitchcockian investigation of Shyamalan’s past -- ending with the conclusion that this talented filmmaker has connections with the supernatural as a result of a secret tragedy in his childhood. Kahn, whose My Architect remains one of my favorite documentaries, switches gears here and goes from sensitive to silly. It’s a far cry from searching for the truth about his famous father (Louis Kahn) to discovering outrageous skeletons in Shyamalan’s closet, and Kahn loses my respect by allowing his skills to be used in such a frivolous manner.
Still, this mockumentary does contain some funny scenes. Interviews with Johnny Depp, who supposedly refused to work with Shyamalan because of the director’s controlling personality, and Adrien Brody, who appears in The Village, made me chuckle at the contrast between the two stars and their attitudes -- even though I knew both were “acting” as they talked with Kahn. And the pizza delivery man who becomes a consultant adds an amusing touch to the movie, as does a security guard who refuses to admit Kahn and crew to the set of The Village when things start going wrong.
Shyamalan’s own “acting” here involves trying to look annoyed when asked questions that aren’t on the approved list or storming out of an interview or posing for fan photos. Unlike the actors appearing in The Village, he’s not very convincing -- but, like most of his stars, he sure is photogenic. I recall how impressed I was by Shyamalan’s dark good looks as well as by his passion for filmmaking when I interviewed him in connection with his first film, Wide Awake.
That’s probably why I’m so grumpy about The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan. I think Shyamalan, one of today’s finest filmmakers, deserves a serious documentary about his life and his movies -- not a cinematic joke like this.
(Released by Buena Vista Home Entertainment; not rated by MPAA.)