After saying Marvel movies are “not cinema,” a stance that sparked much discourse online, filmmaker Martin Scorsese clarifies superhero movies are not what he considers to be cinema. Scorsese first expressed that original commentary when promoting gangster epic The Irishman, telling Empire Magazine, “I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema. 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. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” Positioned to elaborate on Popcorn with Peter Travers, Scorsese explained superhero movies are not “what [cinema] is to me.”
“It might be cinema to the kids seeing those films, but I don’t get it,” Scorsese said. “Or least let me put it this way: I’ve seen one or two, that’s enough. Because it’s the same thing over and over, you know?”
Asked to provide his definition of cinema, Scorsese answered, “I think what makes cinema, to me… ultimately, it’s something that, for some reason, stays with you so that a few years later you can watch it again. Or ten years later you watch it again, and it’s different. In other words, there’s more to learn about yourself, or about life. That’s interesting.”
For Scorsese, his biggest concern is the matter of franchise films taking over theaters.
“I looked at the theaters, and most of the theaters are playing superhero films. I said, ‘So what’s left? Do we have any theaters left for a movie?’” he said of the lengthy process to get The Irishman made before it was picked up by Netflix. “Those movies are fine, it’s not my thing, and I’ve tried over the years to watch some of the stuff. And I lost interest, a great deal of interest. But in any event, I thought it was time for us to think about, what constitutes cinema?”
Scorsese earlier defended his position in an op-ed piece penned for The New York Times, where Scorsese said it was character — not thrills, shocks or set pieces — that drew audiences to the films of Alfred Hitchcock and his contemporaries.
“Many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures. What’s not there is revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk,” Scorsese wrote. “The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes.”
The filmmaker then added Marvel movies are “everything that the films of Paul Thomas Anderson or Claire Denis or Spike Lee or Ari Aster or Kathryn Bigelow or Wes Anderson are not.”9comments
“At first you may find that, ‘I’m affected by this film, the camera work is amazing, the actors are terrific, great editing,’ and that sort of thing. But after a certain amount of time, after you get enough of that,” Scorsese told Travers. “For example, Shoot the Piano Player, [François] Truffaut — I thought that was the best. But after a while I realized it’s Jules and Jim. It’s got more depth, you can watch it repeatedly, and you can watch it at different times in your life. The films are the same, you change.”
Scorsese’s The Irishman is now playing in select theaters and streaming on Netflix. Follow the author @CameronBonomolo on Twitter.