It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Almost every day, I get half a dozen calls from readers who urgently need the answers to obscure questions about movie lore. Today's latest: "After Tarzan always said 'Me Tarzan, you Jane,' what did Jane say back?" It astonishes me that people expect movie critics to have the answers to these questions, which require the addictive, repetitive viewing of old movies.
Indeed, I sometimes think movie trivia is an avoidance of movie art: Obsession with the license plate on a movie character's car has nothing to do with the movie in question, but it does place the trivia addict in a safe position of ascendancy over the larger issues in the movie. At parties, movie trivia experts are like stand-up comedians. They've found a way to dominate the conversation without having one. They're like Travis McGee's definition of a bore: They deprive you of solitude without providing you with companionship.
But enough of this. I originally started out to say that it would probably help to be a movie buff if you find yourself watching "Fade to Black." This is a weird, uneven, generally intriguing thriller about a young man whose fantasy life is totally controlled by images from movies. He works in a Los Angeles film exchange, checking and shipping movie prints, and at night he comes home to his museum-like room in the home of his aunt-a shrill harridan who would feel less secure in her wheelchair if she had ever seen "Kiss of Death."
The young man is played with a kind of creepy power by Dennis Christopher, in a role completely opposite from his last appearance as the hero of "Breaking Away." He is lonely, socially isolated, hostile. He has memorized every movie ever made. (Although when he bets money on a trivia question, it's one with a ridiculously easy answer: He wants to know Humphrey Bogart's full name in "Casablanca." Everybody knows that one. If you don't, don't call me, call Siskel.)