About two months ago, Martin Scorsese caused an epic uproar by stating in an interview that Marvel is “not cinema”. One month later, he writes an Op-Ed to the New York Times explaining why. Let’s unpack.
First of all and perhaps most importantly, Scorsese indicates that he has a specific definition of what cinema is that is separate from “movies”. So, he is not exactly saying that Marvel films are not real movies. That was sort of how I took it when I first read about said uproar.
Scorsese defines cinema as “an art form that brings you the unexpected”. Marvel films are often criticized for sticking too closely to a specific formula that most notably includes a large third act battle. This is the root of his argument and I think this specific assessment is largely fair. But every genre has its formulas and tropes. Isn’t that what constitutes a genre? I can think of a number of genres that are awards-popular (and typically regarded as cinema) that heavily rely on formulas. For example, the biopic:
Montage of person growing up that hints at what they’ll be known for.
Person becomes involved with what we know them for, iconic elements are shown
They’re succeeding, on a roll. (Probably also in montage form)
Suddenly a big failure! Oh no!
They succeed despite all odds, and that’s why there’s a biopic about them, I guess.
End of film that Scorsese would probably call cinema.
Pretty much every awards cycle boasts at least one biopic, usually more. That’s a genre of film where I thoroughly know what I’m walking into (not to mention because it’s also historical, but you catch my drift). Also… isn’t Scorsese kind of super known for making a very specific type of film? Isn’t he maybe totally known for making gangster films? Often with the same group of actors? Doesn’t he have a new buzzy Netflix movie with that same group of actors?
I leave you with the words of James Gunn, director of the very personal and cinematic Guardians of the Galaxy films.
“Many of our grandfathers thought all gangster movies were the same, often calling them ‘despicable,'” he wrote. “Some of our great grandfathers thought the same of westerns, and believed the films of John Ford, Sam Peckinpah, and Sergio Leone were all exactly the same. I remember a great uncle to whom I was raving about Star Wars. He responded by saying, ‘I saw that when it was called 2001, and, boy, was it boring!’ Superheroes are simply today’s gangsters/cowboys/outer space adventurers. Some superhero films are awful, some are beautiful. Like westerns and gangster movies (and before that, just MOVIES), not everyone will be able to appreciate them, even some geniuses. And that’s okay.”
When I am able to set aside three and a half hours and finally watch The Irishman, I know what I am going to get. And that’s just fine with me.