[Marxism] Martin Scorsese: I Said Marvel Movies Aren’t Cinema. Let Me Explain.

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 4 20:15:59 MST 2019


NY Times Op-Ed, Nov. 4, 2019
Martin Scorsese: I Said Marvel Movies Aren’t Cinema. Let Me Explain.
By Martin Scorsese

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.

ut, 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.



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