I wrote about the new book, "The Man Who Heard Voices," on my Powells blog last Monday, and have been meaning to post about it over here too. The context of the post over there was that the book gets you inside Shyamalan's head -- I mean, it seems like for much of the book Shyamalan pretty much told Bamberger what he was thinking and Bamberger wrote it -- and that's kind of what blogs let you do, at least the good ones. But the point about blogs that I made over there isn't what I want to write about here, because I've written about it before (and because you can read that post if you want to). I just want to write about the book, and why even though the negative reviews it's been getting are probably right, I really enjoyed it and I think it was totally worth reading.
From my Powell's post (and then I'll go from there):
The book got an overwhelmingly negative review in the New York Times last month — "not just a puff article but a full-length, unintentionally riotous puff book." Yet somehow the review made me want to read the book anyway. I've liked most of Shyamalan's movies, and the book seemed like a chance to get inside his head a little bit. Which it is, completely. The book is in a lot of ways autobiography dressed up as biography — for much of it, Bamberger is writing about the thoughts inside Shyamalan's head, and apparently got enough access and got Shyamalan to open up to him enough that the reader gets a real sense of the process behind making the movie and of Shyamalan's thoughts, at least the ones he wanted to let Bamberger communicate.
The book follows the life cycle of Shyamalan's new film, Lady In The Water, from an early script draft through submitting it to Disney, their negative reaction, Shyamalan jumping over to Warner Brothers, casting, shooting, and finally having a version of the film ready to be seen. It's a fascinating look inside the process, mostly because -- rather than in spite of -- the one-sidedness of the presentation. Sure, Bamberger writes about Shyamalan like he's a God among men. But that's what makes the book so compelling. It's this perspective we usually don't see in books -- it's not a distanced,unbiased outsider's view. Instead it's the story from Shyamalan's point of view, but without the usual problems of autobiography where someone doesn't want to be too revealing, doesn't want to seem too immodest, or just doesn't have anything to say. Bamberger puts you there, in Shyamalan's pocket, and it's a great perspective from which to learn about how the film was made, how Shyamalan's head works, and what the movie business is like from the point of view of a filmmaker. So what if it's a puff piece? It's interesting *because* it's a puff piece. It's interesting *because* Bamberger is so close to his subject. And Shyamalan doesn't come off without fault, even with Bamberger so close to him. The Amazon reviews largely say that Shyamalan comes off looking badly -- I don't think he does. I think Shyamalan comes off looking like a guy committed to his work, with a healthy opinion of himself. I don't think that's so terrible. He seems a little bit sensitive to things that probably don't matter so much, but that could also be how Bamberger saw him as opposed to the reality. But my big point is that rarely does an author get so close his subject, and that makes this book a terribly addictive read, and I couldn't put it down. Whether that makes it a good book, I don't know. But I can't imagine a filmmaker or anyone who aspires to do work in the entertainment industry who wouldn't find the book a terrific read.
I wrote about Bamberger's previous book, Wonderland, two years ago. Liked that one too, if I recall.