In his wildly brilliant op-ed for The NY Times Martin Scorsese endeavors to explain his point of view to those who love Marvel or DC movies, he writes:
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 — aesthetic, emotional and spiritual revelation. It was about characters — the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures, the way they can hurt one another and love one another and suddenly come face to face with themselves.
And that was the key for us: it was an art form. There was some debate about that at the time, so we stood up for cinema as an equal to literature or music or dance. And we came to understand that the art could be found in many different places and in just as many forms — in “The Steel Helmet” by Sam Fuller and “Persona” by Ingmar Bergman, in “It’s Always Fair Weather” by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly and “Scorpio Rising” by Kenneth Anger, in “Vivre Sa Vie” by Jean-Luc Godard and “The Killers” by Don Siegel.
Or in the films of Alfred Hitchcock — I suppose you could say that Hitchcock was his own franchise. Or that he was our franchise. Every new Hitchcock picture was an event. 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.
And in a way, certain Hitchcock films were also like theme parks. I’m thinking of “Strangers on a Train,” in which the climax takes place on a merry-go-round at a real amusement park, and “Psycho,” which I saw at a midnight show on its opening day, an experience I will never forget. People went to be surprised and thrilled, and they weren’t disappointed.
He goes on to say:
So, you might ask, what’s my problem? Why not just let superhero films and other franchise films be? The reason is simple. In many places around this country and around the world, franchise films are now your primary choice if you want to see something on the big screen. It’s a perilous time in film exhibition, and there are fewer independent theaters than ever. The equation has flipped and streaming has become the primary delivery system. Still, I don’t know a single filmmaker who doesn’t want to design films for the big screen, to be projected before audiences in theaters.
And closes it this way:
For anyone who dreams of making movies or who is just starting out, the situation at this moment is brutal and inhospitable to art. And the act of simply writing those words fills me with terrible sadness.
To Martin Scorsese and anyone who might read this — the tragedy of these films isn’t that they’re Marvel movies or that they expand on the daring and interesting comic book franchises they come from. The tragedy is that they are hand-delivered and tailor-made for a crowd that gets exactly what they pay for. When you walk into a Martin Scorsese movie — mob based or otherwise — you don’t know what you’re going to get. In a movie from a franchise you do. Why? Because the formula is baked in. You already know. Like you know what the Big Mac is going to taste like or the Starbucks coffee will taste like. It’s designed to give you a fan experience.
You can call that art if you want. You can say this is what turns you on in the movies and that’s okay. Maybe art movies are too much work for many people, and maybe most of them aren’t that great anyway. Maybe you really just want to escape into a universe that will give you the kind of comfort and payoff you crave. That is all okay.
But please, for the love of all things holy, let Scorsese have an opinion. And I gotta say, his opinion is right. He didn’t need to provide any explanation, of course. Most people in Hollywood who make movies or want to act in movies where they don’t have to wear ridiculous costumes already know this. They just don’t know what to do about it because no one does. Have great epic films gone the way of Route 66? Where all of those unique stops along the way? Are they now plowed under, paved over, and sacrificed to get us where we want to go so we will buy what they want us to buy? I hope not.
To Martin Scorsese I say: Thank you. For a lifetime of brilliance. Here is the comment I left at the Times. I suggest you go there and leave one too.
You don’t have to explain. You are Martin Scorsese and your films have been some of the best experiences of my entire life. Thank you for them. Thank you for never phoning it in. Thank you for never taking the easy road. Thank you for taking risks, even if you might fail. Thank you for giving me the respect as your audience member enough to challenge me with what kinds of films you make and thank you for never dumbing it down. Thank you for never pulling back on violence or absurdity. Thank you for telling the truth in your art. Thank you for shining a light in the darkest corners of humanity and for always finding the beauty in our collective film history.