Martin Scorsese: I Said Marvel Movies Are Not Cinema. Let Me Explain.

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Master_Live

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#1  Edited By Master_Live  Online
Member since 2004 • 19829 Posts

A version of this article appears in print on Nov. 5, 2019, Section A, Page 27 of the New York edition with the headline: The Dying Art of Filmmaking.

Cinema is an art form that brings you the unexpected. In superhero movies, nothing is at risk, a director says.

When I was in England in early October, I gave an interview to Empire magazine. I was asked a question about Marvel movies. I answered it. I said that I’ve tried to watch a few of them and that they’re not for me, that they seem to me to be closer to theme parks than they are to movies as I’ve known and loved them throughout my life, and that in the end, I don’t think they’re cinema.

Some people seem to have seized on the last part of my answer as insulting, or as evidence of hatred for Marvel on my part. If anyone is intent on characterizing my words in that light, there’s nothing I can do to stand in the way.

Many franchise films are made by people of considerable talent and artistry. You can see it on the screen. The fact that the films themselves don’t interest me is a matter of personal taste and temperament. I know that if I were younger, if I’d come of age at a later time, I might have been excited by these pictures and maybe even wanted to make one myself. But I grew up when I did and I developed a sense of movies — of what they were and what they could be — that was as far from the Marvel universe as we on Earth are from Alpha Centauri.

For me, for the filmmakers I came to love and respect, for my friends who started making movies around the same time that I did, cinema was about revelation — aesthetic, emotional and spiritual revelation. It was about characters — the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures, the way they can hurt one another and love one another and suddenly come face to face with themselves.

It was about confronting the unexpected on the screen and in the life it dramatized and interpreted, and enlarging the sense of what was possible in the art form.

And that was the key for us: it was an art form. There was some debate about that at the time, so we stood up for cinema as an equal to literature or music or dance. And we came to understand that the art could be found in many different places and in just as many forms — in “The Steel Helmet”by Sam Fuller and “Persona”by Ingmar Bergman, in “It’s Always Fair Weather”by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly and “Scorpio Rising”by Kenneth Anger, in “Vivre Sa Vie” by Jean-Luc Godard and “The Killers” by Don Siegel.

Or in the films of Alfred Hitchcock — I suppose you could say that Hitchcock was his own franchise. Or that he was our franchise. Every new Hitchcock picture was an event. To be in a packed house in one of the old theaters watching “Rear Window” was an extraordinary experience: It was an event created by the chemistry between the audience and the picture itself, and it was electrifying.

And in a way, certain Hitchcock films were also like theme parks. I’m thinking of “Strangers on a Train,” in which the climax takes place on a merry-go-round at a real amusement park, and “Psycho,” which I saw at a midnight show on its opening day, an experience I will never forget. People went to be surprised and thrilled, and they weren’t disappointed.

Sixty or 70 years later, we’re still watching those pictures and marveling at them. But is it the thrills and the shocks that we keep going back to? I don’t think so. The set pieces in “North by Northwest” are stunning, but they would be nothing more than a succession of dynamic and elegant compositions and cuts without the painful emotions at the center of the story or the absolute lostness of Cary Grant’s character.

The climax of “Strangers on a Train” is a feat, but it’s the interplay between the two principal characters and Robert Walker’s profoundly unsettling performance that resonate now.

Some say that Hitchcock’s pictures had a sameness to them, and perhaps that’s true — Hitchcock himself wondered about it. But the sameness of today’s franchise pictures is something else again. Many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures. What’s not there is revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk. The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes.

They are sequels in name but they are remakes in spirit, and everything in them is officially sanctioned because it can’t really be any other way. That’s the nature of modern film franchises: market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption.

Another way of putting it would be that they are everything that the films of Paul Thomas Anderson or Claire Denis or Spike Lee or Ari Aster or Kathryn Bigelow or Wes Anderson are not. When I watch a movie by any of those filmmakers, I know I’m going to see something absolutely new and be taken to unexpected and maybe even unnameable areas of experience. My sense of what is possible in telling stories with moving images and sounds is going to be expanded.

So, you might ask, what’s my problem? Why not just let superhero films and other franchise films be? The reason is simple. In many places around this country and around the world, franchise films are now your primary choice if you want to see something on the big screen. It’s a perilous time in film exhibition, and there are fewer independent theaters than ever. The equation has flipped and streaming has become the primary delivery system. Still, I don’t know a single filmmaker who doesn’t want to design films for the big screen, to be projected before audiences in theaters.

That includes me, and I’m speaking as someone who just completed a picture for Netflix. It, and it alone, allowed us to make “The Irishman” the way we needed to, and for that I’ll always be thankful. We have a theatrical window, which is great. Would I like the picture to play on more big screens for longer periods of time? Of course I would. But no matter whom you make your movie with, the fact is that the screens in most multiplexes are crowded with franchise pictures.

And if you’re going to tell me that it’s simply a matter of supply and demand and giving the people what they want, I’m going to disagree. It’s a chicken-and-egg issue. If people are given only one kind of thing and endlessly sold only one kind of thing, of course they’re going to want more of that one kind of thing.

But, you might argue, can’t they just go home and watch anything else they want on Netflix or iTunes or Hulu? Sure — anywhere but on the big screen, where the filmmaker intended her or his picture to be seen.

In the past 20 years, as we all know, the movie business has changed on all fronts. But the most ominous change has happened stealthily and under cover of night: the gradual but steady elimination of risk. Many films today are perfect products manufactured for immediate consumption. Many of them are well made by teams of talented individuals. All the same, they lack something essential to cinema: the unifying vision of an individual artist. Because, of course, the individual artist is the riskiest factor of all.

I’m certainly not implying that movies should be a subsidized art form, or that they ever were. When the Hollywood studio system was still alive and well, the tension between the artists and the people who ran the business was constant and intense, but it was a productive tension that gave us some of the greatest films ever made — in the words of Bob Dylan, the best of them were “heroic and visionary.”

Today, that tension is gone, and there are some in the business with absolute indifference to the very question of art and an attitude toward the history of cinema that is both dismissive and proprietary — a lethal combination. The situation, sadly, is that we now have two separate fields: There’s worldwide audiovisual entertainment, and there’s cinema. They still overlap from time to time, but that’s becoming increasingly rare. And I fear that the financial dominance of one is being used to marginalize and even belittle the existence of the other.

For anyone who dreams of making movies or who is just starting out, the situation at this moment is brutal and inhospitable to art. And the act of simply writing those words fills me with terrible sadness.

Oh you thought I would let it go, that I wouldn't make a 3rd thread about it. Not in this lifetime buddy. So Matty wrote an Opinion column in the New York Times that appeared yesterday on their website and today in print in which he expands on his comments about how Marvel movies aren't cinema.

3rd thread, 3rd time agreeing with Matty (and Coppola). I agree in the essence of what he is saying even if I don't necessarily agree that Marvel aren't cinema. Best part was:

But the sameness of today’s franchise pictures is something else again. Many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures. What’s not there is revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk. The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes.

They are sequels in name but they are remakes in spirit, and everything in them is officially sanctioned because it can’t really be any other way. That’s the nature of modern film franchises: market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption.

Damn. I, among countless others, have expressed similar sentiments. Rarely ever something meaningful, or that it "feels" that way imo, happens in these movies. I mean it took 24 movies for them to kill Iron Man. Nothing ever sticks, which is why this made Infinity War even worst in my eyes since you knew they wouldn't let the "Thanos snap and half the organism are dead thing" stand. Bunch of nothing.

Anyways, any thoughts in Martin's expanded thoughts? Is James Gunn crying in a corner somewhere? Even if Marty denies it, is he just crying because "his kind of movies" are getting crowded out in the market place and he can't compete anymore?

And be careful, not sure we are allowed to have an opinion on this unless you worked "in the industry". :D

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Ezekiel43

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#2  Edited By Ezekiel43
Member since 2017 • 1980 Posts

I'll watch The King of Comedy five times before I'll ever watch Joker.

The sad thing is that Scorsese isn't even one of these lesser known directors he talks about. What I mean is that he doesn't make the kinds of arthouse or independent-type movies that go unknown by most people. His movies were in the middle, not blockbusters, but not little known either. So, if even someone like him was pushed out of the cinema by capeshit, it tells you how much these movies have hurt cinema.

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#3  Edited By mrbojangles25
Member since 2005 • 44845 Posts

Scorsese is an intelligent, rational person; I took the soundbite the media gave of him with a grain of salt, and not some crotchety old man rambling about how his generation did it right, and the younger generation is ruining it.

I'm glad you posted this @Master_Live because it more or less confirms what I thought he was saying. And ultimately what it comes down to is this: you have pop movies--that is, movies built to appeal to the masses--and you have art movies.

While I love pretty much all the Marvel films, I take them about as serious as I take Britney Spears, Ariana Granda, the Jonas Brothers, or whatever pop artists you want to throw out there. That is to say, I don't take them seriously at all.

I think people wanted to take his words as hostile when really they're just analytical "this is them, this is me, we are different and that's fine"

Media never really dies, it just changes format. This happened with physical newspapers in the 2000s. Those that embraced change found a home online with readers while still having the physical product in circulation as well. Those who lamented the change and refused to adapt went out of business, or worse, were bought by tabloids or trash panderers.

The same thing is going on with cinema; the only films that can feed the greed of chain movie theatres are franchise films, while "artistic" films are going to streaming services or TV like HBO and so forth.

It's not better or worse, it's just different. If you see people complaining, especially people of renown, it's because it's not their preference. It doesn't mean it's worse or better.

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sonicare

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#4 sonicare
Member since 2004 • 57013 Posts

"It was about characters — the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures, the way they can hurt one another and love one another and suddenly come face to face with themselves."

I don't see how this can't be applied to some marvel movies as well, though. Some certainly are light on that aspect, but some are not. Some do a fairly good job of developing the characters and delving into their flaws and their interactions with each other.

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Zaryia

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#5  Edited By Zaryia
Member since 2016 • 10238 Posts

They are cinema, just not that good cinema. Except for maybe The Winter Soldier.

He's objectively wrong as per the definition of the word going by literally any dictionary. He should just say what I said, but that would result in even larger backlash perhaps.

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nepu7supastar7

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#6 nepu7supastar7
Member since 2007 • 5306 Posts

@Master_Live:

Basically it's a rant of: "Back in my day, movies were art." It's to be expected from old Hollywood film makers. But when in reality, the qualities he spoke of are still present to this day. But our movies are bigger now, more grand in scale.

Art is a form of expression but it is also viewed differently, according to the individual. In my opinion, movies were always about entertainment and not about being art in itself. We can call it art just like we can for videogames. But then begs the question: what is art to us? The answer is everything. Human society is ruled by art. It's in our buildings, roads, clothes, cars, books, everything connected to us is heavily influenced by our creativity and artistic vision.

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AFBrat77

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#7 AFBrat77
Member since 2004 • 26783 Posts

Scorsese makes good points......but no matter to me, I enjoy the Marvel movies irregardless, good fun

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#8 nintendoboy16
Member since 2007 • 36740 Posts

Kevin Feige himself has the BEST response.

"I think that's not true. I think it's unfortunate," Feige says when asked about the notion that superhero movies are a negative for cinema. "I think myself and everyone who works on these movies loves cinema, loves movies, loves going to the movies, loves to watch a communal experience in a movie theater full of people."

...

"Everybody has a different definition of cinema. Everybody has a different definition of art. Everybody has a different definition of risk," says Feige. "Some people don't think it's cinema. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. Everyone is entitled to repeat that opinion. Everyone is entitled to write op-eds about that opinion, and I look forward to what will happen next. But in the meantime, we're going to keep making movies."

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PernicioEnigma

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#9 PernicioEnigma
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I agree. It sucks how popular comic book movies have become, and I'm sick of all the man-babies who collect those stupid bits of plastic molded into shapes of "super heroes". It's just pathetic and sad.

We do still have good movies being made, and he points that out in his response. It's just too bad they usually slip under the radar while silly Marvel movies get all the attention and make billions.

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LJS9502_basic

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#10 LJS9502_basic
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@zaryia said:

They are cinema, just not that good cinema. Except for maybe The Winter Soldier.

He's objectively wrong as per the definition of the word going by literally any dictionary. He should just say what I said, but that would result in even larger backlash perhaps.

Dictionaries can show that words adapt. And cinema has a couple different meanings already. So that would make you objectively wrong.

Cinema

[ˈsinəmə]NOUNBRITISH

  1. a theater where movies are shown for public entertainment; a movie theater.

    "I was weaned on a diet of Hollywood fantasy at my local cinema" ·

    [more]synonyms:movie theater · movie house · cineplex · fleapit · picture palace · picture theater · bioscope · nickelodeon · the pictures · the movies · the flicks
    • the production of movies as an art or industry."the history of American cinema"synonyms:films · pictures · movies · motion pictures · the big screen · the silver screen
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#11  Edited By Litchie  Online
Member since 2003 • 24706 Posts

Very interesting. If only I could give any sort of shit.

Scorcese didn't need to explain anything. It's people who need to get a life.

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VFighter

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#12 VFighter
Member since 2016 • 5545 Posts

@LJS9502_basic: Thats not helping your cause.

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#13 HEATHEN75
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@PernicioEnigma said:

I agree. It sucks how popular comic book movies have become, and I'm sick of all the man-babies who collect those stupid bits of plastic molded into shapes of "super heroes". It's just pathetic and sad.

We do still have good movies being made, and he points that out in his response. It's just too bad they usually slip under the radar while silly Marvel movies get all the attention and make billions.

You're sick of other people having a hobby? Sounds like you got issues.

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LJS9502_basic

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#14 LJS9502_basic
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@vfighter said:

@LJS9502_basic: Thats not helping your cause.

I don't have a cause. Do you?

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#15 mattbbpl
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On one hand I WANT to agree because of the people running around calling the MCU the greatest cinematic accomplishment to date, but if I'm being honest I really can't. Movies, and really any media format, is a part of our culture and a reflection of it's time. From the unintentional themes running through individual themes to the broader drivers of industry wide movements, they are a reflection of society in the moment they were created. It's no more valid to dismiss the MCU as part of that than it is to dismiss the post-apocalyptic sci-fi movies of the 50s (and that's probably a good comparison).

It's kind of ironic that this is coming from the same man who said, "You don’t make pictures for Oscars."

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#16 sonicare
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@mattbbpl said:

On one hand I WANT to agree because of the people running around calling the MCU the greatest cinematic accomplishment to date, but if I'm being honest I really can't. Movies, and really any media format, is a part of our culture and a reflection of it's time. From the unintentional themes running through individual themes to the broader drivers of industry wide movements, they are a reflection of society in the moment they were created. It's no more valid to dismiss the MCU as part of that than it is to dismiss the post-apocalyptic sci-fi movies of the 50s (and that's probably a good comparison).

It's kind of ironic that this is coming from the same man who said, "You don’t make pictures for Oscars."

My thoughts exactly. I mean honestly, his idea of "cinema" would exclude about 90% of the movies that are out there.