A Dreamer Walking

The Masters Vs. The Empire

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on October 24, 2019

Two of cinema’s giants come out with comments against Disney’s relentless line of generic Marvel films, and all we can do is debate on whether they have the right to do this? The amount of shade thrown Scorsese and Coppola’s way after Scorsese critique of Marvel films not being “cinema” and a suggestion by Coppola that the films are “despicable” is extreme, and in my opinion uncalled for. Did you know the great Kurosawa said he only was able to produce a few moments of pure cinema in his career. KUROSAWA!!! I bet if you ask Coppola or Scorsese they too would be very critical about their ability to make real cinema that pushes the boundaries of the medium.

Because most simply like to read the clickbait headline, maybe it would do us good to look into a little more of what these two masters of cinema said about the Marvel Cinematic Universe Empire. For Scorsese, talking to Empire Magazine, it was short and sweet, “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.” After receiving the Lumière Festival Life Time Achievement Award for his body of work, Coppola communicated a few short thoughts about his view of the MCU and comments made by his friend Scorsese, “When Martin Scorsese says that the Marvel pictures are not cinema, he’s right because we expect to learn something from cinema, we expect to gain something, some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration…I don’t know that anyone gets anything out of seeing the same movie over and over again.” He ended on a even more dower note claiming, “Martin was kind when he said it’s not cinema. He didn’t say it’s despicable, which I just say it is.”

These legitimate criticisms of Hollywood’s most generic franchise, from the forces behind the most influential movies of all time, such as The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull, are extremely relevant and should be taken seriously. Instead we’ve been getting mostly petty complaints. A few people have even dared to dismiss the works of Coppola and Scorsese in the same way they perceive the two filmmakers dismissing the great Marvel Universe. 

Let’s get the critique of Scorsese and Coppola out of the way. These two directors have most likely not watched all the films they are critiquing. Scorsese even said as much before articulating his brief thoughts on the movies. I also think it’s legitimate to critique Scorsese and Coppola for not being able to empathize with the people who find the Marvel films extremely enriching. I know Scorsese in particular was a HUGE fan of the Western in the 1940’s and 1950’s. And although there were instances of true transcendence – John Ford’s The Searchers, Howard Hawks Rio Bravo, and Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon, to name a few – there were plenty of completely mediocre and easily forgettable Westerns during those time periods as well. And from my understanding Scorsese wanted to check out almost all of them. King Vidor’s 1946 classic, Duel in the Sun, for example is a film Scorsese has articulated quite eloquently as being an under appreciated masterpiece yet the critics then and most historians today would not call that movie special in any real way.

So there is a bit of a double standard here. Both Scorsese and Coppola are Cinephile nerds who still hail films many others can legitimately criticize. Yet the category Coppola and Scorsese rarely hailed as anything special were the big budget studio driven films of the day. In fact, the two filmmakers are legends because of the guts they had in standing against the studio “norms” in order to produce risky cutting edge films. They made no efforts to hide a big middle finger to the shallow one track mind of the Hollywood establishment. After the financial success The Godfather Coppola was begged by studio heads to make a sequel. He resisted for a while. When he decided to make another one it was made to be a literal contrast to the first film. Where people were expecting a sort of copy of the first film – with hyper violence, punchy editing, and dynamic characters – Coppola literally did the opposite – most of the violence happens off screen, shots were held for uncomfortably long amount of time, and the film as a whole was a literal meditation on the lack of dynamism our main characters had compared those from the first movie (HERE is a great podcast episode from Max Baril going into detail about the differences between the movies).

Due to the Rocky franchise’s success the Boxing film, as a subgenre of the Sports film, was a huge fad in the early 80’s. So after the failure of his musical New York, New York, Scorsese agreed to the more streamline genre. He then proceeded to subvert the whole Sports genre completely. Rather than making a sports film where we root for underdog to excel, we are given a character full of contradictions and conflicts. He a magnificent boxer, yet he abuses his wife, shows a destructive hyper ego, and uses his popularity to hide a destructive home life. Scorsese is relentless in his examination of the male persona and it’s destructive qualities. In short he wanted to say something new and damn anyone who wanted to get in the way.

The two artists being criticized by countless fans of the Superhero genre could not care less about the criticism. They aren’t trying to force you to see things their way. They simply are sharing their frustration with the lack of innovation in the current mainstream film industry. What should be extremely troubling for anyone who enjoy indiependence in the film industry is the power grip the Disney Corporation has over the big budget blockbusters of today. Those at the top have made it clear their bottom line interest is the amount of money their films will make. For this to work one must be safe in the way they tell their stories. This is why, despite a wonderful amount of talent and countless dollars, all their films look the same and in the end rarely have anything interesting to say. 

Now, you can disagree with me about my little critique on the MCU. This is not the post to get into details about the MCU and the ways I feel they highlight the bankruptcy in today’s cinema. There are admittedly some admirable qualities. Some qualities in fact that Scorsese and Coppola are a bit ignorant of in their own filmmaking. Storytelling that highlights diversity and anything close to equal female representation are few and far between in both Master Filmmaker’s films. Though I wouldn’t call the MCU a pinnacle of diversity or female empowerment, I admire their efforts of late in creating stories where woman take on a more intentional role (such as what we saw with Captain Marvel and hopefully will see with the upcoming Black Widow film). And their willingness to go into other cultures to highlight the need for diversity (with movies like Black Panther and the upcoming Shang-Chi film) is something I’m also in big support of. 

It’s okay to have differing opinions on things. I’m not under the subscription that “everyone could be right”, but I do know no one has a monopoly on truth. The issue I take is when great artists are dismissed due to their comments being opposed to something someone likes. Scorsese and Coppola have earned the right to have their criticism heard and taken seriously. Both Coppola and Scorsese are in search of the unknown in their cinema. Even today they continue to strive to find deeper truths about human nature. Watch Martin Scorsese’s A Personal Journey Through American Cinema and you will see extremely broad and deep appreciation for movies. That these two artists do not have a connection with today’s most successful franchise, is a troubling one. 

(If you want to read more about Martin Scorsese’s thoughts on the MCU and personal troubles he is finding in today’s cinema check out the I Said Marvel Movies Aren’t Cinema. Let Me Explain piece he wrote in the New York Times)