Martin Scorsese has just delivered a masterclass in film criticism. Leaning in on something he said in an interview last month, he has authored an NYT oped detailing why he thinks franchised superhero films like those of the Marvel universe are worldwide audiovisual entertainment but not cinema – though he concedes that sometimes the two categories overlap.
Obviously the man has the chops. He has directed a variety of wonders like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Hugo, and The Wolf of Wall Street. He has kept audiences returning to theaters for six decades. He has inspired the careers of directors across the world.
What’s his beef with the superhero blockbusters? That they are “market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified” so that finally “nothing is at risk”. And no matter how many talented individuals contribute to such a film, “they lack something essential to cinema: the unifying vision of an individual artist. Because, of course, the individual artist is the riskiest factor of all.”
Thus speaketh the auteur.
But, ummm, what about a movie like Black Panther? Surely Ryan Coogler’s juggling of substance and spectacle has a very, very personal signature.
Continuing on the theme of risk, Scorsese once said of Kubrick films they felt like gazing up at a mountaintop: “You look up and wonder, how could anyone have climbed that high?” And when Taxi Driver was released it was reviewed as an exploitation film to the extent that on showing it to some New York media educators, Scorsese thought he’d get “lynched”.
On this theme there can be unending argumentation back and forth, but the second crucial criticism he makes is pretty indisputable: “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.” That, ladies and gentlemen, is fact not opinion. That is about our choices getting limited, not expanded. And that is super worrying for cinephiles – there, here, everywhere.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.