Martin Scorsese, in an Opinion piece for The New York Times, tries to clarify his stance on Marvel films being "art."
In October, as Joker was set to arrive in theaters, Martin Scorsese began his divisive discussion about Marvel Studios' blockbusters not being "cinema." He shared his views with Empire Magazine and that "not cinema" quote went viral.
Everyone from James Gunn to Francis Ford Coppola had an opinion on it. Debates waged all over Film Twitter. There was anger, ire, and a lot of trolls. The argument seemed to get distilled into two phrases: "Okay, Boomer" versus "Theme Parks are not art."
Now, Martin Scorsese has written an Opinion piece for The New York Times where he outlines everything he meant by his original quotes.
In the piece, Scorsese begins by diffusing any ill-will people had assumed he wished on those making superhero films. It was a classy move that also asserted his argument moving forward.
I love how Scorsese doesn't back down here. Instead, he works his way into the way he wants to define cinema.
While many people may disagree, his assertions here about the industry are correct. Studios are risk-averse and the risky mid-budget movies of the past have completely disappeared.
Okay, here's where Scorsese truly heads into uncharted territory.
Since the Lumiere brothers set up their camera and films a train entering a station, we've all agreed what the definition of "cinema" has been. Technology has changed, but even with the rise of 3D, digital, the slow abandoning of celluloid, and even stunts like smell-o-vision, we've never tried to redefine the form.
For better or worse, no matter how it affected the subjective medium, cinema has been...well...cinema.
And now Scorsese wants to change that term.
He wants to do it because he sees a formula being repackaged al the time and that terrifies him. He'sd worried because he thinks we're losing art, not gaining it.
After waxing about Hitchcock and other cinema, Scorsese comes to his point.
Let's stop for a minute to digest.
I had strong feelings when I heard Scorsese's original take back in October. I've refrained from publishing anything on here because while I initially disagreed, I wanted to take the time to see it from Mr. Scorsese's point of view. He is a better and more important filmmaker than I'll ever be. He is a true idol for me and on cinema's Mount Rushmore. So when he came out with this piece, I was excited to read it. I wanted to know everything he took into account when making his decision and statement.
And now we have it.
My Reaction to Scorsese
I have gone back and forth on what I believed about this issue. While I applaud the cinema of old, I also respect that it's not the same Hollywood anymore. There's still room to be an independent voice, but the true money and career-making movies wind up being large franchises for big studios.
I agree that the appetite for originals still exists, the budgets for them have been absorbed into television. That means studios who want to release a movie today have so much more to compete with than exists in the 1970s.
Also, as a 32-year-old trying to come up in cinema now, I am saddened by the lack of opportunities given to people of my age (especially women and people of color) to make cinema. This is due to the lack of studios making anything they perceive to be a financial risk without a proven audience.
It has never been harder to break into Hollywood. It's why I blog part-time here to make ends meet. But can you blame a huge conglomerate traded publicly on the open market for putting the most risk-averse content out into the world? No.
Because even in the 1970s, companies still tried to keep budgets down and released widely appealing stuff to make money. Sure, more risks were taken, but there was way less to compete with.
There weren't 500 TV shows, 20 streaming channels, vast libraries of entertainment, and immersive video games that allow you to be part of the action. The world has changed. Cinema changed with it.
And cinema continues to change.
I disagree with Scorsese when he says that Marvel movies are sequels that have the same stories and repackaged ideas. I think if Scorsese gave them a chance, he'd see many of the Marvel movies he'd see many different genres and stories that actually branch outside of what we see as expected tropes.
There is no denying what Scorsese laments -- the disappearance of movies like The Irishman. And not just his movies, but daring movies that took chances. The reason we herald the brave and unique and grounded filmmaking of the 1970s was because it felt like made us think about the world around us. It took us to seedy parts of the city, challenged representations of love, race, and violence.
We're in uncharted territory now.
It's hard to talk about the present state of filmmaking without time to reflect. While things have become so commercial that they feel cookie-cutter and safe, does that make them any less art? I think the answer is an emphatic "no."
Art is a subjective medium. And art changes given on the state of the world and the time it is made.
Scorsese saying Marvel is not art is like Picasso saying Normal Rockwell is not art. You may prefer "Guernica" to "Freedom From Want," but both have valid things to say about the society they're within.
You could certainly argue that Marvel movies are not made to entertain, but to sell merchandise and theme park tickets. But you'd be wrong. They're made and special care is put into them being entertaining so they maximize engagement...to sell tickets to the theater to make money.
But if that's your argument, then what do you have to say about art made by Jeff Koons or Kehinde Wiley?
Should they be giving their art away for free?
Should museums not charge people to see them when they are hosted?
Scorsese shaking his fist at a conglomerate hiring people to make "safe art" is annoying and problematic. Especially coming from the guy who produced a DC film -- that he was going to direct -- that mimicked his own original masterpieces and had a budget of over $150 million to make a three and a half-hour gangster biopic.
A small part of me wants to know why Scorsese and his "Marvel-is-not-art" buddies didn't put time and effort into mentoring the next generation.
But that might be my own bitterness talking. And my desire to learn from people of his generation.
Cinema has changed, but the definition should not. People are painting with different colors and different mediums now.
You don't have to love it, support it, or be interested by it. But it's going to keep being made. Sometimes the way we see it being made sucks.
But guess what? There are people shooting things all the time!
So while it might suck to see the way things are going, try to look past the giant elephant in the room to what else can be found. I think you'll find that art and cinematic art are going to be okay.
Change is scary. But it is inevitable.