THE BURIED SECRET OF M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN
ZERO STARS/**** Image A Sound A
written by Melissa Foster
directed by Nathaniel Kahn
PAULY SHORE IS DEAD
½*/**** Image C Sound B Extras D
starring Pauly Shore, Jaime Bergman, Todd Bridges, Rick Ducommon
screenplay by Pauly Shore and Kirk Fox
directed by Pauly Shore
by Walter Chaw The only thing separating M. Night Shyamalan from Pauly Shore is that Shyamalan actually has a couple of classic modern suspensers under his belt and Shore doesn't have anything on his resume that could be remotely considered indispensable. Both are weasels, both have spent some period of time being really popular, both have endured a critical and popular backlash, and both have produced mock-documentaries detailing how interesting they think they are. But at the end of the day, only Shore's Pauly Shore Is Dead has anything like an affecting, self-deprecating, clear-eyed sense of self: The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan is an embarrassing and cripplingly self-congratulatory PR gag. Shore knows that he's like nails across a chalkboard for most sentient beings on this planet (going so far as to portray his remaining fanbase as a hilljack in a trailer somewhere in Kentucky); Shyamalan thinks that a fake documentary shot in the style of Curse of the Blair Witch is a cute way to not only publicize his sham of a post-9/11 psychodrama The Village, but also debunk some of the venomous press (and leaked memorandums) that he's been amassing ever since deciding to start giving himself top-billing and face-time within the promotional materials for his films. (Check out the Signs DVD's packaging and cast your mind back to the last time you saw a picture of the director incorporated into the cover art of any release.) Shore knows he's become an object of ridicule; Shyamalan thinks he's become a national treasure--or at least the poet laureate.
When you indulge in something as hostile as The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan, hiring on Academy Award-nominated documentarian Nathaniel Kahn (My Architect) to pose as a filmmaker assigned by the Sci-Fi Channel to investigate the "truth" behind Shyamalan's "four" films (Wide Awake and Praying With Anger were expunged from the record), you're boldly courting things that happen in Greek plays. An evil publicist (Ilana Levine) cautions Kahn and his crew to stick to the script and Shyamalan himself appears for a few "authorized" interviews during which he acts typically smug and evasive. The joke that he's playing, you see, is on the great unwashed audience he relies upon and disdains--that he will later identify as eager to turn to their sitcoms after a viewing of this thing, thus slagging his loyal viewership and, in the same stroke, doing his best to spin reports leaked from his sets of ridiculous demands and cryptic manifestos. In "acting" out his ugly little closing diatribe against Kahn and the short attention span of his audience, though, Shyamalan reveals in the film's one true moment a depth of arrogance that's only really stomachable in light of the flogging that The Village took in the courts of critical and public opinion.
Cameoing as an actor considered for the Joaquin Phoenix role in The Village, Johnny Depp claims that Shyamalan has his actors memorize George Bernard Shaw quotations for regurgitation to the press. Kahn, meanwhile, is instructed to intercut this revelation with a gravid Adrien Brody regurgitating Shaw quotations. It's good documentary practice to catch subjects in dishonesties, but that's subverted here by a faked documentary/real commercial in a way that demeans good documentary practice for the purposes of a practical joke meant to drum up business for a pretentious motion picture. The rest of the film is Kahn's purported epic struggle against the publicity machine to unearth the "buried secret" of the title, namely that Shyamalan is connected to the spiritual world (hence we have a Ouija board sequence and a haunted house intrigue) and that his films are autobiographical instead of speculative fictions. The director leaked to the press that he was unhappy with the Sci-Fi Channel for producing such a scurrilous thing and, later, the channel apologized, though not for the right reasons. The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan is the product of a filmmaker with a scary deficiency in terms of respect for his audience as well as a genuinely appalling self-regard that encourages the creation of feature-length pranks that land like a boast instead of taking-the-piss out of himself. And the next time he discusses Hitchcock (as he does here and was invited to do for Warner's DVD reissues of Strangers on a Train and Dial M for Murder), I'm hoping he has something to say beyond "I liked The Birds." The ultimate irony is that The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan proves extraordinarily revealing of the type of person Shyamalan actually is: you don't involve yourself in this kind of jejune garbage if you're not a special kind of dick.
Five years in the making, the Pauly Shore- produced, directed, and co-scripted freeform epic Pauly Shore is Dead is saturated with star cameos that run the alphabet from Pamela Anderson to Montel Williams. Whoopi Goldberg puts in an appearance, as do Carrot Top, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, the Hilton sisters, Clint Howard, Sean Penn, Michael Madsen, Todd Bridges, Fred Durst, the ghost of Sam Kinison--everyone but Downtown Julie Brown: in a pathetic moment among the bonus materials, she wigs out upon learning that she's been lumped into a film that prominently features a lot of folks whose careers are effectively over and/or were documented on the "E! True Hollywood Story". (I'm not sure if that's pathetic for Shore or for Brown.) The narrative as it is has Shore playing Shore, faking his own death with a cadaver scavenged from the LA County Morgue, then reaping the benefits of the press' intrinsic predisposition to call any artist sent prematurely to the grave a genius cut down in his prime. He plans on having a triumphant resurrection à la Huckleberry Finn once the whole world remembers and loves him again.
There's some vaguely amusing stuff in here as Shore declines to buy oranges from Gerardo at the side of the road and recreates the first and only episode of his flaming planewreck of a Fox sitcom, which sees his mock-managers and agents patting the ol' dog's bottom, as the Chinese say, while simultaneously dialling a mayday on their cell phones out the other sides of their mouths. Moreover, Shore reminds that his shtick deserves to be retired even as Adam Sandler (or an Adam Sandler sound-alike) confesses that the Sandler mystique is substantively identical to the Shore mystique: one part hostile, one part moron, one part artificially sentimental.
The same trinity could be used to describe the structure of the film, in fact, in that there's a barely subsumed hostility in Pauly Shore is Dead born from a sense of befuddlement (Shore's rant against Carrot Top isn't funny so much as just weird--see also the road rage scene from Woody Allen's Anything Else) and the presence of Tom Sizemore, essentially playing himself coming on to a dim blonde at a party in a scary way. There's the constant moronity of Shore "playing" a sexually frustrated little animal incapable of understanding why people are sick of him, and there's the sentimental final third where visits from dead friends bring Shore to an epiphany that the way for him to get back "on top," as it were (success measured by Shore as strippers and Fred Durst kissing your ass), is to be himself. Oh, puke.
But through it all, though every bit as stupid, Pauly Shore is Dead doesn't have a smidgen of the hatred for us that The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan does. Either film appeals for a little love, but while Shore doesn't seem to take anything for granted anymore, Shyamalan is burying himself under a mountain of self-entitlement. It's an old Hollywood dictum that you're only as good as your last movie, and by that criteria, both men are essentially in the same boat. The truth, of course, is that Shyamalan is a gifted director swallowed whole by his ego and that Shore is most likely never going to be more than a footnote and an irritation. But where Shore's film is a minor trial, Kahn's Shyamalan flick is actually infuriating.
A boon, then, that Buena Vista has released the latter abortion without any sort of special features. The 1.78:1 anamorphic video transfer of The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan is crisp and occasionally arresting, recalling in moments that Khan's My Architect is an excellent documentary while providing zero insight into why anyone would take any amount of money to be Shyamalan's bitch. The DD 5.1 audio is fulsome for what's essentially a glorified commentary track, with a couple of moments in which ravens fly around ("I like The Birds") surprising for their channel separation.
No such boon ferries Pauly Shore is Dead into your living room as Fox goes the whole hog, starting with 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and cropped fullscreen transfers on opposite sides of a flipper disc. Both look and sound (in matching DD 5.1 mixes) identical in every important measure as, after all, the entire thing was shot on Shore's digital video camera. It's everything you'd probably expect from a Pauly Shore-made DV production: obnoxiously sharp and obnoxiously loud. A feature-length yakker from Shore is hard to listen to, filled as it is with shout-outs to the celebrity guest stars who have already received their shout-outs by virtue of their presence in this thing. In the meantime, Shore doesn't betray any knowledge of the ins and outs of filmmaking, and he tends to start stories without finishing them--the most intriguing of which involves why "Saved By The Bell"'s Screech is an asshole. (Luckily, it's resurrected within the DVD's voluminous special features.) Any sympathy Shore might have engendered by this desperate cry for attention (the movie, not the faked suicide therein) is quashed by listening to the guy talk for the duration.
A perversely long "Celebrity Host Wraps" segment marquee bills Eminem and Proof as they--in gritty (gritty and self-reflexive) black and white--give irritated-seeming introductions to deleted scenes that are then hosted by, variously, the Hilton sisters (not enough combined wattage in there to tease a Christmas light) and Charlie Sheen. Click on the Hilton section and see Shore "BUD-dy" through over fifteen minutes of elided material that, after a while, starts to suggest Shore doing the Kevin Smith thing by trying really hard to be cool because of his proximity to people who tolerate him. Included herein is the missing Screech outtake--which I guess really pissed Screech off when it was cut. The true measure of how deep in the skids you are is accepting a role in a Pauly Shore film and then bitching after you're scissor'd. (Another good one is how childish you act when you lose at Celebrity Poker Showdown--I'm talking to you, David Schwimmer.) Revelations also include the fact that prior to actual people volunteering to be in it, Shore got look-alikes for Maury Povich, Jerry Springer, and Ricki Lake. But there's more--thirteen additional minutes of deleted scenes, to be precise, hosted now by Shore and Sheen. If you thought the film was unwatchable, imagine if you can the bleakness of what didn't make it in. Close this section with four minutes of Aaron Lewis of the band Staind, doing a Weird Al version of his own "hit" "It's Been Awhile." Sigh.
"Making My Movie" (17 mins.) is another mockumentary, this one about the making of the feature mockumentary. The story of the film's creation is Shore going around harassing people to either finance or be in his picture, including a pair of Vegas whores who decline to participate because they're actually businesswomen. Unbearable. Digging through this stuff is a lot like stumbling upon that poor lightsaber kid's uploaded video. "Interrogating the Weiz" (15 mins.) is a howlingly uncomfortable tape of Pauly doing a Q&A after a screening of his film at CalState Fullerton to a three-quarters-capacity auditorium of students with apparently nothing better to do. Shore works the crowd before the show like a revival tent barker and, afterwards, keeps asking his questioners if they liked the movie in what becomes a really sad cry for affirmation. Some brilliant questions from the future of cinema:
"What were some of the challenges of making your film?"
"Do you ever want to take on any serious roles?"
"What do you like better, directing or acting?"
"For people just getting into the business, do you have any advice on how to pitch an idea?"
"Are you taking this to Cannes and Sundance?"
"Did anyone ever try to change your vision?"
The only reasonable response to any of these questions is, of course, "Who is it you think you're talking to here?" Rest assured that these banal inquiries are no more banal than the questions asked on any junket in North America--you, too, have a future at Wireless Magazine and Entertainment Tonight. The highlight comes when Shore goes too far in propositioning a ditzy co-ed and a truly uncomfortable hush falls over the mob. If you can imagine Shore conducting a Q&A after a film about himself that he's just spent five years completing, you probably think you can imagine how bad this thing is--and you'd still be aiming too high. Key revelation is that Shore is a bitter, unpleasant, petty, humourless little man--and that his stoned weasel song and dance isn't doing that great a job of hiding it. Originally published: March 11, 2005.