The past few years of cinema have been wrought with near panic as streaming services have turned into production companies and large corporations are turning out more and more Intellectual Property (IP). What started as a war between theaters and Netflix has now grown to include multiple streaming services. That conversation has also begun to create a barrier between true cinema and the corporate creations made for revenue and a slot on the top-ten box office list. The loudest argument recently was made, slightly, by famed director Martin Scorsese. His remarks clearly stated his dislike of the Marvel/comic book movie and does not consider them “cinema.” Now, there’s a heavy amount of nuance involved in this discussion but to start off, he’s completely right.
Scorsese Claims Marvel ‘Isn’t Cinema”
First and foremost, Martin Scorsese is 76 years old. His career began in the late ’60s and erupted in the 80s and has continued until, well now. Let’s all take a step back and understand that his definition of cinema is going to be drastically different than today’s movie fans. This doesn’t mean that his opinion is irrelevant by any means, it simply means his taste is different. What it does mean, however, is that he has the ultimate right to speak on what he considers cinema. Scorsese is one of the best filmmakers of all time and might arguably be the best. With all that said, we can all appreciate that movies are different in today’s climate.
Scorsese’s True Comments
The essence of his original statement with Empire Magazine, Scorsese calls the Marvel films “not cinema.” He later would detail this criticism in an opinion piece in the New York Times explaining that the conversation isn’t necessarily about the films, but the environment they are creating/enabling. Marvel movies have become events and are sought to be replicated. As of right now, four of the top ten highest-grossing films of all-time are the four Avenger movies. Backing up to the top one hundred, there are twelve Marvel films included, which is about half of the MCU at this point.
These movies are more about establishing IP on the big screen rather than telling stories on-screen in one movie. The obvious evidence is the last two Avengers films (Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame) were both halves of a story. That story being the time Thanos snapped half the universe out of existence and then the Avengers went back in time (or something?) and stopped him. The creative force behind Disney and Marvel used five-plus hours to tell basically one story. Now, we’re not here to criticize two of the most successful movies of all-time, and we’re certainly not discrediting any member of the team, but isn’t a little obvious? Doesn’t the surrounding conversation about Disney and large corporations bleed into this?
The Issue with Disney
Marvel was a dying film studio in 2008. They had sold so many of their characters to other studios in an attempt to stay afloat. Their last-ditch effort came in Iron Man and their golden Robert Downey, Jr. It’s unclear how deep this Avengers idea went at that time, but that didn’t matter as Disney stepped in and bought Marvel. This became a real-life Avengers Initiative as Disney had the money and power to create a cinematic universe. Again, no criticism, but the main purpose was to get people to come to see this giant event. Disney wanted profits and theme parks. Establish and profit from IP. If the Avengers do well, then the bandwidth for more characters increases, and then more characters can show up on the screen.
It’s safe to say that the majority of the movie-going audience has seen the bulk of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and Disney understands that. We’re turning up for movies every few months and making two visits for the bi-yearly team-up movie. This needs no further proof than this year’s Endgame re-releasing in theaters with a few more minutes of the film to entice fans to come back and push it into the highest-grossing film of all-time. This wasn’t a decision to put a film back in theaters to preserve its mark on society. No, it was a business move. Just like a theme park, they bring out the biggest attraction in hopes of drawing audiences in. Scorsese alluded to the comic book movie is similar to theme parks and their attempts at franchising attractions.
Why the Distinction Matters
Some reactions to Martin Scorsese’s comments have included the term “gatekeeping,” which means that Scorsese is defining what is and isn’t cinema, thus comic book movies are bad because they aren’t cinema. Now, this is a valid opinion coming from a person. It’s ok to like or dislike a movie. It’s ok to critique a movie or to call it trash. There’s plenty of critics that do it for a living, and there are millions of Twitter users that do it for free. The film media seems to rush certain people and ask them about the industry and set them up to answer tough questions at junkets. Scorsese didn’t say anything he needed to take back. The questions needed some more time and depth for him to convey what he meant.
Movies are referred to as film or cinema sometimes, and these words are interchangeable technically, but some use these words differently. The most general uses of “movie” are comic book or blockbuster movies. “Film” or “cinema” might seem a bit more pretentious but it’s typically used for higher-brow films. The difference is subtle for most, and honestly, it’s a bit elitist to label something different. However, we have labeled art for as long as art has been around. While some may see Scorsese’s filmography as a franchise-type career, it’s important to see the difference between Taxi Driver and Joker. There’s room for all the movies. There’s no need to sensationalize one person’s comments just because they’re Martin Scorsese, a legendary Academy award-winning director who has been making premier films for longer than most Marvel fans have been alive. No. We’ll just keep pretending that Raging Bull and Thor: The Dark World are both, “cinema”.
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