In a new opinion piece, Martin Scorsese offers some 1500-ish words of explanation about his semi-controversial Marvel opinions.
Doing a great job of fostering debate (just weeks ahead of the release of his new, critically-praised The Irishman—hmmm), Martin Scorsese just can’t stop talking about Marvel movies. “That’s not cinema,” he said to Empire about the MCU a few weeks ago. “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.”
A defensive outcry howled back at Scorsese. Many agreed with him. And a plethora of well-known industry types either weighed in—or were dragged in—to the discussion.
Now Scorsese has taken advantage of the New York Times opinion pages to deliver a more thorough take, rather than an interview response. The piece lives up to its title: I Said Marvel Movies Aren’t Cinema. Let Me Explain.
In the piece, Scorsese acknowledges that age and upbringing have influenced how he feels about Marvel films: “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.”
But, as he explains, it’s what he discovered and grew to love about film in a specific era that framed what he came to expect from cinema. Stressing the point that, in his younger years, there was debate about whether cinema is even an art form, Scorsese says: “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”.
Turning to Marvel films, Scorsese makes them seem like facsimiles of the art he loves. “Many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures,” he says. “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.”
Labeling modern film franchises “remakes in spirit”, Scorsese bemoans that they are “market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption.” His fear? That the homogeneity of cinema distribution will lead to moviegoers just wanting one thing, and alternatives being driven from cinemas.
“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.”
Scorsese goes on to contrast the current era with the Hollywood studio system, and notes the productive tension between art and commerce, a tension he describes as absent in the present day.
“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.”
Ending on a bummer note, Scorsese writes: “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.”