Stop the presses! A 78-year-old man doesn’t like superhero movies! Hide the women and children!
Okay, he’s not just any 78-year-old man, he’s arguably America’s greatest living filmmaker, Martin Scorsese. Considering that, his words have garnered – and I think earned – more attention than that of others in the industry who take issue with the deluge of comic book movies that have rained on and reigned over the multiplex for the last decade plus.
Just to make sure everyone is up to speed, in a recent interview with Empire Magazine, Scorsese said this:
“I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema,” Scorsese told Empire. “Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”
And the crowd (and by crowd I mean social media) went wild. Real wild. You would think Marty was drowning their kittens and sleeping with their wives. Cries of “elitism!” and “burn the witch!” rang out. Okay, maybe not “burn the witch,” but you get the idea.
When asked about the matter again this week at a press conference for his new film, The Irishman, Scorsese reignited the “controversy”:
“It’s not cinema, it’s something else […] We shouldn’t be invaded by it. We need cinemas to step up and show films that are narrative films.”
He didn’t stop there:
“Theaters have become amusement parks. […] That is fine and good for those who enjoy that type of film and, by the way, knowing what goes into them now, I admire what they do. It’s not my kind of thing, it simply is not. It’s creating another kind of audience that thinks cinema is that.”
While the village is still burning, I think it might be a good time to take a breath and consider both the man and what he’s trying to say.
The easiest point to start with is Scorsese is a great artist. More than that, he’s an all-time great, tip-top of the food chain. His face belongs on the side of the cinematic Mount Rushmore next to Hitchcock, Spielberg, and Billy Wilder. Let’s go get our chisels.
He also has a remarkable on-set reputation for being a fair and generous director. That’s probably why so many people both in front of and behind the camera work with him over and over again.
His opinion is worthy of being heard, and he’s not your garden-variety asshole spouting off with no thought or care for how his words might be received.
That being said, you don’t have to agree with him.
For myself, I’m willing to partially split the baby. When Scorsese says he doesn’t consider movies based on comic books to be “cinema,” what he’s really saying is that they aren’t “art.”
Before I get into that, let me establish my own comic book bona fides. I grew up as an only child in a difficult household. I was an avid reader of comics. Not only did they help me escape what went on outside of my bedroom door, they opened my mind to storytelling, moral arguments, and expanded my vocabulary.
I think that movies made based on comic book sources often don’t live up to the complexity of their written and drawn origins. Many of these movies – even the good ones – are product. Cash cows that the studios invest in heavily and expect a certain rate of return. That’s just business. But that business can get in the way of art.
Furthermore, comic book movies do have a higher bar to clear to reach the level of “cinema” that Scorsese says they fall short of. Masked avengers wearing capes and taking down bad guys with superhuman strength and fancy gadgets is an inherently silly base to build an artistic film from.
So, I get what Marty is saying.
But here’s where I think he’s wrong.
There are notable exceptions in the genre that exceed their confines and say something greater about not only their subjects, but about human nature and the world we live in.
Black Panther has a message of inclusivity that prevailed beyond the studio’s desire to make money. It’s cloaked in pride and thoughtful on the subjects of race, responsibility, and leadership.
Logan bravely deals with aging, mortality, and regret. It works in an allegory to the classic western Shane and earns the right of comparison to that great film.
Captain America: Winter Soldier takes a reflexively patriotic character and has him question his government, his country, and where his loyalties should lie.
Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy may be the most complex of all – dealing with chaos, terrorism, security and how far one can go before they become that which they hate.
Ironically, the polarizing Joker film just released starring Joaquin Phoenix cribs liberally from Scorsese’s work – particularly The King of Comedy – to tell a much darker story than most movies in the genre.
Those are just a handful of examples. Now, I don’t know if Scorsese has seen these films or not. Maybe he did but he just couldn’t get past the costumes. What I do know is that it’s unfair to summarily dismiss them as theme parks.
To be brief, I respect Martin Scorsese. I hear what he’s trying to say. I just, for the most part, disagree with him.
And you know what? That’s okay. Not just for me, but for all those wanting to drop him in a body of water wearing cement shoes.
There is nothing – and I do mean nothing – that Martin Scorsese said about comic book films that should or can keep you from enjoying them. His comments should have done nothing more than start an interesting debate about super-hero films and where they rest artistically within the medium.
But we can’t have that anymore. It’s as if we must reduce each person down to the stupidest, worst, or most disagreeable thing they have ever said. Throw out all the remarkable achievements of Scorsese’s half a century of work, he hurt my feelings!
All Scorsese did was express his opinion. One he feels strongly about. Considering all he has given not just to film, but to our culture as a whole, I think his perspective was worthy of rumination, and, after giving it some thought, if you found that you disagreed with his statement, simply saying so and moving on.
“I love ya, Marty, but you’re wrong on this one.”
Is that really so hard?
The Irishman will be in theaters on November 1 before moving to Netflix on November 27. One way or another, I’m seeing it. Because I love movies. All kinds. And I don’t have to agree with someone on everything to appreciate their work. Martin Scorsese is a great filmmaker. One of the greatest. You can love his films and ones that he doesn’t like.
Everything will be okay if you do. I promise.