The Irishman director Martin Scorsese says he “didn’t have the time” for Joker, the Todd Phillips-directed drama starring Joaquin Phoenix as the infamous future Batman villain. Scorsese was once attached to Joker as a producer when the project — ultimately produced by Phillips, Bradley Cooper, and longtime Scorsese collaborator Emma Tillinger Koskoff — was first being put together by studio Warner Bros. in 2017. According to The Hollywood Reporter, a source close to Scorsese said the filmmaker once eyed Joker as a directing vehicle. A rep for Scorsese denied that claim, saying instead Scorsese only “considered producing,” while a Warners source said his involvement was born out of a need for a New York-based producer.
“I don’t know about that. I know the film very well, and I know Todd very well. My producer, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, produced it. So it’s an interesting question,” Scorsese told BBC Cinematic when asked if he also considered Joker a “theme park movie” after comments made by Scorsese in which he said Marvel movies are “not cinema.”
“Because I thought about it a lot over the past four years, the Joker, and I decided that I didn’t have the time for it. And also, you’re right, it is influenced by [my movies],” Scorsese said. “Todd told me, he said, ‘Marty, this is your style.’ But anyway, personal reasons why I didn’t get involved.”
Phillips earlier said Joker was influenced by gritty, mostly 1970s-era character studies, including Sidney Lumet’s Serpico, Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Scorsese’s own Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy.
Scorsese also knows its script “very well,” adding Phoenix is “incredible” and Joker is “a remarkable work.”
“But for me, ultimately, I don’t know if I make the next step, which is to this character developing into a comic book character. It develops into an abstraction. That doesn’t mean it’s bad art, it could be, but it’s not for me,” Scorsese explained. “That’s different from the superhero films. It’s very different. The superhero films, as I said, are like another art form. They’re not easy to make, there are a lot of very talented people doing good work, and a lot of young people really, really enjoy them. But I do think it’s more of an extension of the amusement park.”
Scorsese then said he predicted the film industry wanting its own “Disney World” as far back as the early 1970s.
“Universal was the first to do it, Universal Studio tours. So they’ve always been aiming in that direction. And it comes together,” he said. “You tour the studio, it’s like a theme park ride, why not put a film in there? Why not make the film part of that experience?”
After expressing worries Marvel and other superhero movies were taking over theaters, Scorsese added his biggest concern is “that the filmmakers need the theaters.”
“Maybe not me, I’m old, maybe it’s my last film, I don’t know. People like me need the theaters,” Scorsese said. “The nature of the amount of money that’s being made with the superhero films, naturally, you can’t tell a studio or corporation or theater owners, you can’t tell them to stop making their money. But on the other hand, they have to give something back to the culture. They have to create a space for the filmmakers to have their films on screen. On screen and then get screened or whatever, because there’s so many venues gonna open as to how films are going to be exhibited. This is what has to happen. There has to be a consciousness changing, I think, in this industry, because we’re wiped out.“
The Irishman, starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, releases to Netflix Nov. 27.