Spoilers: Martin Scorsese doesn’t change his mind as he discusses the current state of cinema, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
For around a month now, the argument about whether the ongoing saga of Marvel superhero films can be considered cinema has been rumbling on. For some, such as Guardians of the Galaxy director, James Gunn, it’s a non-starter as simply by being screened in the cinema, these films become part of the medium. For others filmmakers such as Ken Loach or Fernando Meirelles, Scorsese makes a valid point, his views underscored by the commercial (rather than artistic) nature of these blockbuster juggernauts. Both filmmakers and movie fans alike have been adding their thoughts over the past weeks and if nothing else, it’ served as a platform for a long overdue debate that the Marvel movies are merely a symptom of, the effects of modern, blockbuster cinema on the industry, on audiences and on the art form itself.
Of course, the genesis of this whole discussion came from Martin Scorsese, icon, auteur and cinephile. The director, who rose to prominence in the 1970s ‘New Hollywood’ era where filmmaking subject matter was often seen as edgy and driven by artistic experimentation , roundly lambasted the Marvel films a few weeks ago for forsaking these key principles of cinema, claiming that they are more akin to ‘theme parks’ than art.
Now Scorsese has used an open editorial in The New York Times to fully explain his views. No matter which side of the debate you may sit on, (if indeed your opinions sway to one view or the other; interesting thoughts have been offered by many in the last few weeks proving the argument may not be as polarising as one might think,) we’d urge you to go and have a read. It’s an impassioned argument, eloquently worded, that offers an insightful perspective into the state of modern cinema from the point of view of one of the medium’s grand masters.
To summarise briefly, Scorsese opens by defining what he thinks constitutes cinema: ‘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… It was about characters… the way they can hurt one another and love one another and suddenly come face to face with themselves.’
The director goes on to distinguish between ‘event movies’of the past and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as he sees it. “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. But the sameness of today’s franchise pictures is something else again… What’s not there is revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk.”
Scorsese concludes by clarifying the role of the audience in popularising the MCU and lamenting the effects of such films on the cinema industry. “It’s a perilous time in film exhibition, and there are fewer independent theaters than ever… 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.”
As mentioned above, the full editorial is longer and deserves a full read. If you thought this one was dying down, it may be time to think again…
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