Academy Award-winning director, writer, and producer Martin Scorsese has followed up and expanded on his Marvel movies are "not cinema" comments, saying that while "many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures," there is no "revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk."Scorsese wrote out his side of the story on The New York Times in response to him stating that he's "tried to watch a few [Marvel movies] 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."
He admits 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."
The filmmakers that Scorsese grew up admiring created films "about revelation – aesthetic, emotional and spiritual revelation." The focus was on the "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."He then brought up Alfred Hitchcock and how his films were "an event" and were, in a similar fashion to Marvel films, "also like theme parks."
"Sixty or 70 years later," Scorsese continued. "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 "sameness" of Hitchcock's pictures were explored next, but he posits that "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."
Films today, according to Scorsese, have everything in them "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."
He then gets to the crux of his argument. "What's my problem?" He asks. "Why not just let superhero film and other franchise films be?"
"The reason is simple." Scorsese explains. "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."
Scorsese's The Irishman, which will be released on Netflix and in theaters, includes the director in this streaming future and fight for theater space.
"No matter whom you make your movie with, the fact is that the screens in most multiplexes are crowded with franchise pictures," Scorsese states. "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."
"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."
The tension, according to Scorsese, between Hollywood's "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 every made."
"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," Scorsese concludes. "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."
For more on how Hollywood has reacted to Scorsese's comments, be sure to check out every star who has weighed in one way of the other on the question if Marvel movies are cinema or not.
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