November 5, 2019

Scorsese Explains His Anti-Marvel Comments In New York Times

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. 

Okay. 

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.      

Your Comment

22 Comments

What? You can't just add on "I think you'll find that art and cinematic art are going to be okay" with nothing to back that up. In Scorsese's article, he addresses how cinematic art is on a decline. The barrier to entry has never been more difficult. That's a fact, not something you can just disagree with. Honestly, your article is a little hypocritical and incredibly wishy-washy. Scorsese saying "Marvel is not art" is not at all like Picasso saying "Norman Rockwell is not art". Not even in the slightest bit. Scorsese's point here is not at all about style or genre and if that's what you really think, read it over again because you missed the point completely. Norman Rockwell's artwork isn't market-researched, audience tested, vetted, modified, re-vetted and re-modified until it's ready for consumption...which by the way is something Scorsese addresses but you cut out. Most people viewing this will most likely think that you included the whole article here (or at least everything important). You didn't. You cut out multiple valid and important points. I highly suggest including the FULL article for people to read and to let them decide for themselves. If you're a young auteur, the next Scorsese, the next Fellini, Tarkovsky, Kubrick, Bergman, etc...the current film industry does not have much (if any) room for you. That's devastating and that's an enormous part of Scorsese's thoughts that should not just be glossed over. No Film School should be at the front of this issue, helping the little guys. It's incredibly harrowing to see that this is not the case.

November 5, 2019 at 11:03AM

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Sam Mizrahi-Powell
Writer / Director
230

Yes, whoever wrote this article is poor at expressing themself. First they seem to side with Scorsese, and then end by completely going back on that, then wrap it all up with a completely meaningless statement like I think "Art and Cinema are going to be just fine." What isn't being said is the fact that these movies are completely generic and safe and vetted, but the reason they are successful is they tap into archetypal themes and that is why people are drawn to them and why Studios use that formula. Archetypal themes and characters are essential and legitimate, making "art" purely for the sake of profit is not, nor is stripping away a filmmaking vision with marketing experts' and producers'. Therein lies the contradiction and problem and reason why movies like the Joker are fantastic but 95% of comic book movies are flawed and shallow even if their larger themes' potential is legitimate.

November 5, 2019 at 11:22AM, Edited November 5, 11:34AM

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Rory Sopoci-Belknap
Director
221

Incredibly well stated.

November 5, 2019 at 11:58AM

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Sam Mizrahi-Powell
Writer / Director
230

Totally agree.

November 7, 2019 at 8:08AM, Edited November 7, 8:10AM

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You voted '-1'.
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Owen Mulligan
Writer/Filmmaker
199

I would love to shrug off these lazy, poorly executed 'articles' as the work of corporate shills trying to mislead, misinform and degrade the artist/filmmaker hopefuls that comb through sites like NFS as they travel their long journey's to the silver screen... but it's much, much sadder than that. But for a moment, lets consider how funny it would be if Disney/Marvel MCU infiltrated the indie ranks, slowly feeding us the same old tired garbage that, "This is good cinema guys! Seriously! So drama! Much art!" All in the attempt to poison the minds of otherwise discerning, self-respecting, intelligent and unique voices clamoring to bring their vision to the world across cinemas the world over... so they can re-boot the next superhero we've paid, time and again, to see before.

No, the reality is that there is group of impassioned and vocal adults trying to convince us Martin Scorsese is the one that's wrong and out of touch with what 'cinema really is.'

A smarter man than myself pegged this whole situation very well. To paraphrase: "It's not the filmmakers / storytellers that are worse... it's the audience." And it's true. We've all heard the fast food vs. nutritious home-made meal analogy before and no amount of poorly expressed ideas to the contrary will convince serious, passionate and educated filmmakers that a McDonald's cheeseburger is fine dining (or good for you in large quantities).

To the men/women/them-children holding their adolescence in earnest, put away your happy meal and go eat some cine-getables before you get artistic diabetes.

November 5, 2019 at 3:19PM

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Braden
374

Superbly put.

November 8, 2019 at 2:20PM

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Steve Grant
Director
188

Any Art, Film, or Music is generational... and Movie Studios have always tried to reach as large an audience as possible, but different generations want different things from their art...

"The Greatest Generation" as they're called, the people who survived the horror of The Great Depression and World War II in the 1930's and 40's wanted "Spectacular, Escapist, Entertainment" at the movies in the 50's and 60's, and Musicals, Sword & Sandal Epics, and Westerns entertained and reaffirmed that generation's values.

When "Baby Boomers" were hippies in late 60's and 70's the wanted radical, independent film making, but as they got older they wanted money making franchise pictures... Jaws, Star Wars, Star Trek, Superman, Rocky, Alien, Poltergeist, Indiana Jones, Rambo, Beverly Hills Cop, Conan the Barbarian, Police Academy, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street... and of course "the most respect franchise of all" The Godfather

But "Gen X" being highly suspicious of this commercial bullshit, rejected it, and for a brief time in the 1990's Hollywood tried to focus on "weird auteurs" like Tim Burton, David Lynch, The Cohen Brothers, Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, Harmony Korine, but since they and their audiences both rejected "commercialism" Hollywood quickly moved on from Gen X's movies and music...

"Millennials" who as children survived the horror of 9/11 and Endless School Shootings wanted "Spectacular, Escapist, Entertainment" at the movies, so for the past 20 years that's what Hollywood gives them, and since Millennials don't really like "paying for art and music" Hollywood focuses on low risk "franchise pictures" instead of a 3 and a half hour gangster films made by, and starting people, who are old enough to be the Millennial's grandparents....

but this is the point, every generation is going to retain, reject, and reinvent the art of the previous generations. Scorsese seems to be upset that "his grandchildren" are embracing the kind of "studio system film-making" from the 40's and 50's that his generation tore down in the 70's... but then built back up in the 80's.

There aren't any "Weinstein Brothers" types running studios at the moment, that will produce and promote whatever people like Scorsese "feel like making" and "calling art" ...but Marty's got a point, the "auteur film-makers" have a tendency to make some of the best films, whether it's guys like Chris Nolan making Dark Knight movies, or guys like Steven Spielberg making movies about sharks and dinosaurs eating people... really great directors, with complete creative control, tend to make great films people love... but those same kinds of people can get a little carried away and make stuff like "Star Wars The Phantom Menace" and the "Godfather part 3"

Maybe the problem isn't the studios, maybe "independent film makers" should try making films that reach an audience... other than the "film festival circuit"?

November 5, 2019 at 4:55PM, Edited November 5, 5:22PM

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Tim Lohr
Avant-garde Filmmaker
1

I think a lot of indie filmmakers rather think in terms of: make a movie and then see who it attracts instead of creating something that attracts as many people as possible. You can't really consciously balance both without damaging the whole thing.

But back to this article. I was disappointed by the conclusions after it picked up a lot of the great points Scorcese made. It's not as easy as brushing it off and tell: whatever, stuff somehow will take care of by itself. It kind of resembles the free markets capitalist mindset where an invisible hand will take care of the market when stuff gets wonkey. Unfortunately this may go until the whole market collapses in itself.

Whatever, at this point in time, with technology that allows to do everything one could dream of, we, as filmmakers should embrace the chances of producing as much stuff ourselves, even with the tiniest of budgets. Let the creative thinking prosper and f*ck the system. Let the morons watch their silly garbage until their heads explode or rather, seduce them from seeing the world as it is. I don't care anymore for cinema if cinema doesn't care for me and my likes.

November 6, 2019 at 2:36AM, Edited November 6, 2:38AM

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DingDong
1944

Story is everything... and Scorsese is a master at it! Marvel crap is a string of SFX strung together to impress an audience that leans toward visual excitement and away from imagery that touches the heart and soul. It has absolutely nothing to do with "art".

November 6, 2019 at 5:49AM

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Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker
1500

I agree. Unfortunately most people (specially this young generation) don't have the attention span to digest a good well paced story.

November 6, 2019 at 11:38AM

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Rod P
216

I disagree. For example, very young kids LOVE "2001: A Space Odyssey". But that's because they're watching it before they have been "polluted". The issue is that if someone is only shown movies that are quick paced and have no greater purpose, their attention span starts to fade. It's a matter of habit. If they watch longer slower paced movies more often...they just don't feel slow or long anymore. It's simple. And people also don't feel the need to give slower or longer movies a chance in this environment because when you go see a big blockbuster, the payoff is minuscule. So people don't even bother with the slower stuff with the lack of understanding just how different and how much more impactful the payoff really is in an incredible film.

November 7, 2019 at 10:56AM

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Sam Mizrahi-Powell
Writer / Director
230

I love marvel

November 6, 2019 at 6:08AM

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William james
Academic Content Writer
92

Every movie is a gamble, and studios like to play it safe. From a business perspective it makes perfect sense that they would shell out 1000 superhero films because people actually show up to these movies in the theaters. It appeals to literally the widest audience.

That's not the only thing though. Going to the movies is expensive. People are less willing to spend movie on movies they aren't pretty sure they are going to enjoy and when it costs ~$30 for two tickets to the movies it's hard to blame anyone. Especially when cheap 60" 4k TV's are abundant now, which allows you to just rent the movie for a couple dollars and watch it from the comfort of your own home.

November 6, 2019 at 11:10AM

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Alex Everingham
Video Editor
749

Though I can agree with the statement of corporate Hollywood studios 'hedging their bets' and playing it 'safe' with producing known hits to massive IP's, I would bring up the fact that making a 150M+ film is NOT playing it safe. It's like saying "Well betting on black at the roulette wheel is a 50/50 shot! That's not bad odds! LET ME PUT 150M ON BLACK!"

There's an attitude that 'without these big pictures from Marvel how would the studios make money to produce smaller films.' Luckily, I got an answer: don't gamble 1B producing 6 films! Sure, splurge a few hundred million on some 'safe-bet' tentpoles. Take the remaining 700M and make 10x 50M dollar mid-range pics (original stories aplenty -- you may just create your own franchise by accident!), and finally, use the remaining 200M and make 20x low-budget 10M dollar films with rising young stars. Now you got:
32 Films diversified across the field that are likely going to bring back a fat payday (your 2x tentpole IP's), name-driven mid-level films, and a slew of low-budgets with a crop of rising talents you helped foster. Did I mention that's 32x films employing a full crew and actors? Seems like a healthier way to spend one's cash.

November 6, 2019 at 11:41AM

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Braden
374

This debate is very old, it is exactly what Walter Benjamin was talking about in 1935 in his essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction", which I think every aspiring or veteran film maker should read, before claiming what art is.
The fact you paint or sculpt something doesnt make it a work of art, some paintings and figures, are simply souvenirs.
The same way some films are made to sell you toys, parks or even ideology... They are propaganda created with artistic competence, but they are not art.

November 6, 2019 at 12:32PM, Edited November 6, 12:37PM

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Sergio I logged in just to say “Bravo!” To you for saying it! I was thinking the same exact thing about Benjamin. Superhero films are not “art” they are “propaganda” made by the “culture industry” for our competition- and consumer-based culture. Also, as Geuens describes in “Film Production Theory”: The new film companies use synergy between broadcast, newspapers, websites, print, advertising, and merchandising to maximize profits. Movies are products that are also billboards for other products. What Scorsese laments is that emphasis is taken away from diagesis (story) and has been replaced by physical stimuli created by motion on the screen - the visceral reaction, or stimulation as the photons rapidly hit our eyes: “Whereas the first response benefits from careful character conditioning and narrative buildup, and is thus dependent on the craft of the filmmakers, the payoff of the second is fully automatic in nature: one has no choice but to react.” It’s entirely physical, a sensation, and doesn’t engage the mind. It’s a “hijacking of the eyes” Geuens even mentions how Scorsese uses this in Goodfellas: “Scorsese keeps the juices flowing by forcing the camera to fly through space, surging forward toward a pot of pasta or rushing to the protagonists car without conventional cut or motivation.” This is fine when used well like this to support the story but to elevate the camera moves and visuals above the story like they do with superhero movies is his problem with it. “Aesthetic distance has been eliminated. For directors, this means being in charge of a rollercoaster, and their talent is now being gauged in terms of their ability to produce as many thrills as possible.” Story exists to support the thrills, not the other way around.

November 8, 2019 at 1:31PM, Edited November 8, 2:03PM

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Chris Williamson
Director
94

I haven't read that essay, but I am going to make absolutely certain of it now. Your point is devastatingly superb.

November 8, 2019 at 2:25PM

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Steve Grant
Director
188

Are we still talking about this? Really?

November 8, 2019 at 12:58PM

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Fabrizio Roscini
videomaker
19

A phenomenally disappointing article that fails to engage Scorsese's points and treats we readers as though we were intellectually inept teenagers seeking platitudes such as 'it's all going to be OK'.
When I read 'it's like Scorsese saying "Marvel is not art" is not at all like Picasso saying "Norman Rockwell is not art"' I nearly quit reading it altogether. The fact that weak-minded equivocality such as this is put out there by NFS is really quite worrying, and underline Scorsese's point perfectly.

November 8, 2019 at 2:26PM

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Steve Grant
Director
188

Well said.

November 9, 2019 at 3:30AM

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Rob Cole-Hamilton
Filmmaker
113

If the view that art reflects the culture of the times and vice versa, then Superhero films are spot on. Relationships are probably as shallow as they've ever been; commitment means a pre-nup; sexual responsibilities are virtually non-existent; instant gratification is a life right; my cellphone gets A#1 priority and the list goes on. Superhero films, are, by and large, relationship thin. Obviously not all of the social ills listed are on display in a SH film but they are all part and parcel of the thin relationship society. So in this sense I have to disagree with Marty: SH films are as arty as our culture is culturey. They just don't have high bars.

November 9, 2019 at 8:38PM

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i'm a bit younger then Scorsese, but i near to 50, and i'm not agree with him.
Cinema start with Melies, not with Lumiere's brothers, and he must know very well it (Hugo Cabret). Lumiere are documentarist only, they only document real life, they never edit movies, but they shoot a only one long sequence, no change of angle or edit to change narration. They did from december 1895 to 1897 this kind of documentary.
Melies use movie to telling a story, he create Cinema, real Cinema narration, where he create first real edit, first VFX, first Sci fi movie and more between 1896 and 1898...
CInema is suspend of beliefe, is fiction, is fantasy marvellous story to allow viewer to cry, to dream, to laught... oh some Marvel movie allow me (underline to word me) to feel that kind of emotions... that mean some of them would be art? May Be...
Also Hugo Cabret feel me many emotions, but was shooted in stereoscopic 3D, a main stream blockbuster technique... should not be art... but it is...
point, game... over.
I hope Martin give a chance to more Marvel movies, and not only, to see that Cinema is a great art, and art are not only classic, but are a larger definition.

November 11, 2019 at 4:30AM

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Carlo Macchiavello
Director
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