Scorsese on the State of Cinema

We’ve had discussion in other threads on how Spielberg doesn’t understand the modern state of film distribution. In this NY Times Op-ed piece, you can see that Scorsese understands it quite well, but he definitely doesn’t like it.

Scorsese isn’t wrong about the film landscape. For sure it has been de-risked to the extreme, but there’s also a bit of “Old Man Yells at Cloud” in this.

Also he can fuck off.

The crime dramas he made his bones on were popular genre fare at his time too. And movies that exist as Product first and Art second have always existed. Not every film existed as Something to Say, and may have been Money to Make.

The Marvel Movies exist in the same space as the old serials of the 30s - 50s. Or if you want to nitpick on length - somewhere between the old serials and the longer series of pulp feature films (the classic monster pics, or Godzilla) of the 40s-60s.

The only thing that is new is that they’re bringing the A game to what would’ve been a B movie back in the day. What’s the problem?


You could argue that there is a greater share of revenue for the modern incarnation and less for traditional drama or whatever.

But that is as much changing market conditions as anything. Marvel, if anything, is responding to the rise of home video and streaming. And prestige TV. Many of the films squeezed out have moved to other formats. In order to justify the ticket cost and theater experience demands more than you can get from a well made Netflix series, or HBO drama. Ergo the age of superheroes.

And he was criticized with more than a little justification for repeatedly making the same film, e.g. Goodfellas and Casino.

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…

This is the most insightful thing he wrote in the essay. Shame he disregards that insight to instead tell us why we ought to view movies like he does.

He has a point with most comic book superhero movies. I enjoy them, but they are not surprising or challenging at all. Even the much-vaunted “shocking” ending of Avengers Infinity War was pretty lame and hollow when you know more movies are scheduled with those characters.

The Joker was really the only recent comic movie where I literally had no idea how the story would progress and how it would end up. I’m pretty sure Marty would agree on that one.

I find it funny that Scorsese’s comment, which is the most natural thing in the world for such a man to make, has somehow been deemed controversial. I mean, what was anyone expecting him to say? If you want to hear flattering things about franchise movies, go ask Kathleen Kennedy or something.

I paid at the office with actual on-paper comic books and some comic book movies are near and dear to me (Superman 1, Burton’s Batman). To place them generally on the same aesthetic level as the works of Welles or Kurosawa or Hitchcock or Bergman or Fellini or Ray or Kubrick is… well, let’s just say I am unpersuaded. I think superhero comics generally (the paper ones) have produced at least one genuine work of art in the more exalted sense of the term (Watchmen).

But ‘cinema’ is a broad term and can mean a lot of things. If some 1940s programmer was cinema, then sure, so is Avengers.

Again, I just find it sort of mind boggling that this has become some kind of a flap or controversy. It’s Martin Scorsese, for chrissakes. He’s not gonna kowtow to the friggin MCU.

Hey Scorsese. Go watch a streaming service or something. There are more artsy movies on there than you can shake a mook at. Aren’t you making one for Netflix?

Also, the Marvel movies may be getting a lot of press, but artistic, cinematic movies of yore come out all the time. They just arent box office smashes.

Plus, super high quality serialized TV, which didn’t even exist when Scorsese was in film school, is eating cinema’s lunch. That’s where the talent is going.

That and car commercials.

I’d broadly agree. Though Thor Ragnarok was actually quite surprising. The more I think on it, the more I consider it may be the best movie of them all from an artistic merit perspective. Simply because there was a strong artistic vision, that was willing to fundamentally change characters and have character arcs, and made irrevocable changes in the world.

I just think his way of expressing that as ‘not cinema’ is excessively dismissive and elitist snobbery.

I don’t expect him to. And if his point was merely that the MCU films don’t have the same level of artistry and vision that a Kurosawa film has? I’d wholly agree!

It is the dismissive placement. Its not just that they are studio driven products, which is true, it is the framing of them as without any artistic or cinematographical merit. Which is hypocritical from Martin. Not everything can, or needs to be, some great work of art. And the MCU films rarely are. They are, instead, well made and competent entertainment. Ones that occasionally rise above popcorn flicks to include real pathos and character growth.

Watchmen is a good counter example. If he hates comic book movies I’d also direct him to The Boys, but he’d probably find that purile (probably rightly so).

But yeah, it’s Scorsese. He’s made enough fantastic movies I’ll listen to his opinion and reflect.

Also, all of this.

Yeah, I’m not sure I see a grave problem here either. Sure, he’s right that the Marvel stuff is pablum, but does carefully optimized junk food result in less art? Art of a certain kind, maybe. I dunno.

His point about fewer people taking in a wider variety of shared cinematic experiences, though? I get that. He sees The Movies getting flatter, less personal, and less likely to bring people together to experience novelty. He’s probably right.

Does actual junk food affect what the groceries carry, or where you can open a restaurant?

Why pay the $60 for a date night movie to sit in a theater when I can get the same quality of ‘serious’ movie by watching Netflix or HBO?

The Irishman is a perfect example. I wouldn’t go to the theater for that. But I will watch its premiere with a glass of wine and some popcorn at home after the kids go to sleep.

Sure, so will I. I think one of his points is that we’ll be doing it alone, and there’s a loss there.

What a tool. How quickly he forgets Heath Ledger as the Joker (winning the Academy Award) and Black Panther (nominated for Best Picture). Both were huge risks.

He also completely discounts the Risk Disney took with a 22-film epic (or is it 23?). His chronic gangster movies are less of a risk than any of the above. And why did he seemingly exclude The Lord of the Rings? What makes that novelization adaptation different from the comic book adaptations? What about the Pixar movies?

He’s not talking about financial risks. The “risk” he’s interested in is challenging the audience or having a director or actor bare their emotions on screen.

I’ll give you Ledger as Joker. That was something no one expected, but the movie itself was pretty safe. “Joker does some cool stuff until Batman beats his ass,” is exactly what everyone got, just dressed up in a terrific package.

Black Panther though? It flirts with pushing against the audience’s expectations by making the villain’s motivation semi-sympathetic, but it slides pretty quickly into a normal MCU trifle. It’s not like the movie left the question of whether or not Killmonger was ultimately a bad guy up to the audience.

Also, if you follow any of the industry news, Black Panther had zero chance of winning and was mostly included due to Disney/ABC pressure on The Academy.

What’s the most emotionally bare scene from a Scorsese movie you can remember? (the Royal You, not you, Telefrog.)

I would say possibly when DiCaprio has his breakdown and storms out of his therapist’s office in The Departed.

Edit: I may have to reflect on it actually. I just looked him up and he has directed a HELL of a lot of movies.