And I can’t argue that a few more credit hours poring over Battleship Potemkin wouldn’t give America’s notorious Scrunt-peddler a much-needed refresher course in the tricks of the trade. In fact, he’s about the only living human for whom I would say film school is a good idea. (Then again, let’s be honest: It’s M. Night Shyamalan. His movies would improve if he spent the next two semesters studying the salad bar at Ruby Tuesday’s.)
So how come, when all is said and done, I’m still against the idea? Because, as the founders of M. Night School will remind you, his alma mater is NYU.
OK, I didn’t graduate from their film school, although I did take one elective course there. But it doesn’t matter. For the rest of my life, I get to call myself a product of the prestigious New York University – with all of the Eastern-socialist unemployability and crippling personal debt that entails.
So I’m entitled to speak with the proper surfeit of school pride when I say: Send Shyamalan someplace else. We’ve done all we can for him. And we’ve suffered enough for it.
Seriously. There’s a fragile, endangered pedigree at stake here. Once upon a time, the words “NYU film school” on a resume were a virtual guarantee of vision and daring. We gave you Scorsese. We gave you Spike Lee. We gave you just about everybody who bucked the system to make highly personal films full of urban authenticity and then started a race war with Clint Eastwood. We had a reputation.
But all of that, as the Native Americans and David Lee Roth are wont to say, could be gone in 10 summers. All it takes is a few years worth of freshmen émigrés from Des Moines who have spent their weekends scrutinizing the tracking shot from Goodfellas through a narcotic haze and decided that what that scene really needed was some tits.
Case in point! Walk into almost any commercial business within an eight-block radius of NYU these days, and you know which distinguished grad’s name you’ll most often see immortalized on the wall? Not Oliver Stone’s. Not Ang Lee’s. Not Joel Coen’s.
Yep, The Rat is one of our more recent exports, for better or for worse. (You get one guess here.) A fella can’t stop for a hamburger anywhere near NYU without being forced to stare at a framed glossy of Wolverine’s extended claws from X-Men 3, festooned with a hand-scrawled note declaring how much Ratner loved sucking down egg creams there while plotting the ruin of commercial cinema.
He’s even immortalized on a plaque at the school itself, right alongside his infinitely more adept predecessors – I guess because he would have sent a phalanx of ninja-assassin Hollywood madams to rough up whoever dared omit him. Scorsese, Stone, Ratner – how ridiculous does that look? It’s like a press release from the Republican National Committee reminding us that they gave the world Lincoln, Eisenhower and Ben Quayle.
But somehow, Shyamalan is mostly forgotten when the public roll call of NYU alumni is read. You never read a review that begins, “NYU grad M. Night Shyamalan once again does his best to give his audience tetanus with his latest railroad spike of a flick.” You never see an interview with the director himself in which he credits the school’s faculty for inspiring him to pit Mark Wahlberg against a fern. (Mostly because he’d prefer you to think all of his “ideas” have sprung fully formed from his mighty cranium, like a meth-addicted Athena from the forehead of a big-pimpin’ Zeus.)
What I’m saying is that the last thing we need right now is for the public to really learn to associate Shyamalan with NYU. Because then, they might have cause to reflect on some of the other late-model lemons we’ve foisted on American cinema. Like Marc Forster. Like -- God help us -- Todd Philips.
So tonight, I’m making a firm counteroffer: For every dollar raised by M. Night School ($633.65 as I type), I’m pledging two dollars of my own money to send him someplace else. Don’t worry where I’m going to get the cash; I’ll be fine. The house I just bought doesn’t need drywall that bad. And as for that student loan I mentioned earlier – well, Citibank knows not to expect a check from me whenever an afternoon at Churchill Downs goes down the crapper. It won’t kill them to wait some more.
It’ll be worth it to see Shyamalan enroll somewhere where he’ll really be wanted. Somewhere where his unique narrative “logic” will be nurtured, not discouraged. Somewhere where he can twist endings to his heart’s content and get naught but an indulgent pat on the head, as long as the check clears.
Send him to Full Sail, and send him now.
(Bet you didn’t see that one coming! Oh, and Zack Snyder is an alien!)