I Said Marvel Movies Aren’t Cinema. Let Me Explain.
November 5, 2019 5:12 AM   Subscribe

Martin Scorsese explains his views on the difference between cinema as art and the superhero-industrial complex: “aesthetic, emotional and spiritual revelation”—“confronting the unexpected on the screen and in the life it dramatized and interpreted, and enlarging the sense of what was possible in the art form.” [NYT]
posted by sallybrown (458 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
The "not cinema" distinction still feels a little arbitrary to me, and he doubles down on it here without quite justifying it as such a clean break. It's sort of like Ebert's "not video games" thing years ago, where he put himself in a position to have to nullify every counter-argument instead of just saying something like "the video game medium does not lend itself easily to art."

But every single point Scorcese makes around that here, re: the difference between the films he loves/makes and the constant churn of super hero franchising and the calcified industry making them, is spot on.
For anyone who dreams of making movies or who is just starting out, the situation at this moment is brutal and inhospitable to art.
posted by Kybard at 5:27 AM on November 5, 2019 [16 favorites]


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. The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes.

They are sequels in name but they are remakes in spirit, and everything in them is officially sanctioned because it can’t really be any other way. That’s the nature of modern film franchises: market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption.


I can't disagree with a single point here.
posted by octothorpe at 5:30 AM on November 5, 2019 [48 favorites]


Not everyone agrees. Sorry Marty, but Captain America is daring, serious art
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:36 AM on November 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


He’s not wrong.

Also, really looking forward to Black Widow this winter.
posted by Construction Concern at 5:36 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


At the same time consumer patterns get the viewers of these franchises to self identity with them and interpret attacks on the films as attacks on them. It's an insidious trick of modern media that results in fragile people becoming wildly angry because of anodyne criticism.
posted by Ferreous at 5:37 AM on November 5, 2019 [75 favorites]


I think he is right that it is difficult to tell a superhero story with sophisticated characterization that reveals something about the day to day lives of the people watching. And I say this as a life-long lover of superheroes.

I also think he's right that his background leads him to understand art in certain terms. He does not seem to appreciate that there can be beauty in bold strokes. There can be mystery and revelation in mythology. That's what mythology is for. It's all a matter of taste, though. I run hot and cold on the stories that Scorsese chooses to tell. I don't expect him to like everything that I like, but I lean towards being inclusive in my definition of art.

What’s not there is revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk.

I still don't quite know what he means by "emotional danger" in a piece of art. And I'm not 100% clear what kind of risk he is talking about. I think he means risk on the part of the viewer, but I'm not sure, and I'm not sure what that would be. There are surely many great works of cinema that Scorsese and I would agree on, but I don't know how to apply that observation to them.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 5:38 AM on November 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


Part of the risk he's speaking of is risk of an untested product, in this case a novel film that hasn't been fed through dozens of layers of viewer testing to produce the most appealing product for the most number of people.
posted by Ferreous at 5:39 AM on November 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


"Fandoms" are overly sensitive to the subject matter of their interests being disparaged. It's like a weird vestigial defense mechanism from a time a lot of the fans weren't even alive where the very idea of a superhero movie was laughable. And now, with the rising of the big fantasy franchises of the last couple of decades, there's a sense that these properties are finally getting the recognition they deserve.

But, of course, that sense of respectability for previously maligned genre matter is all part of the marketing.

And that's the real heart of the issue. The problems Scorsese is describing are problems of capitalism, not that the genres or characters or themes are inherently without worth. It's true that every big budget movie is treated primarily as an investment vehicle and focus tested and marketed to the point where there is no oxygen left in the room for any competitor because it makes that investment safer.

It sucks that this comes in tandem with those investment properties delivering glimpses of faces and themes that have been marginalized by the misogynist, racist system that Scorsese is nostalgic for. It's good that we are getting Black Panther and Wonder Woman and Ghost Busters when all of these would never have even been made or, if they had been, promoted seriously by the studios 20 years ago.
posted by Reyturner at 5:40 AM on November 5, 2019 [20 favorites]


I'd say the superhero movies, in general, are often solid craft with occasional moments of deeper artistry within them, but not much like the kind of art that Scorsese is trying to reference, but that most movie goers don't really give a crap about that, which is a whole separate issue that connects with but isn't quite the same as what is normally being argued about with art and movies.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:41 AM on November 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


They are sequels in name but they are remakes in spirit, and everything in them is officially sanctioned because it can’t really be any other way

i love a lot of scorcese movies, but what percentage of them are about mobsters or thugs? i mean come on
posted by entropicamericana at 5:43 AM on November 5, 2019 [27 favorites]


They do give a crap about it, look at all the backlash at the "not cinema"comment in the first place. A lot of franchise film fans want to think they're put upon underdogs when the media they consume is the most prevalent form in the world.
posted by Ferreous at 5:44 AM on November 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


Dude who grew up during the golden age of crap b-movies and religious epics has an issue with the modern iteration of same.
posted by davros42 at 5:47 AM on November 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


Scorsese can suck it.

Not every meal has to be from a three star Michelin kitchen. The mac and cheese your mom makes is just as valid.

We enjoy art to help us feel things. If super heroes make us feel safe, or at least give us two hours of relief from the horrors of the real world, that's just as valid as watching some grimdark anti-hero groaning at the screen for two hours.

This smells a lot like "artists" trying to keep "crafters" out of the exhibition.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:47 AM on November 5, 2019 [26 favorites]


It's sort of like Ebert's "not video games" thing years ago, where he put himself in a position to have to nullify every counter-argument instead of just saying something like "the video game medium does not lend itself easily to art."

Ebert was eventually pushed into explaining that he sees art as something that needs to be viewed as distant, as distinct, as challenging to the viewer, to be art. Something that is made in collaboration with the audience isn't art, at least not to that audience, because everything they take away from it is something that they brought to it.

I mean, I disagree, but his opinion was often characterised as petulance and not a considered position that happens to be falsified, and I'd argue it's only after his death that there's been clear examples of games that are art because they are interactive, that use interaction as the medium and then slip out of the player's grasp in a way that's artistically meaningful. At the time, people were pointing to Flower, which was very pretty but didn't have a lot to say, or Passage, which was artistic but wasn't really in dialogue with the player. Compare to, say, The Stanley Parable, which has a lot on its mind about storytelling and interactivity, and utterly depends on, and is destroyed by, the actions of the player.
posted by Merus at 5:47 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


Something I found notable, although he doesn’t mention it in the piece—the most interesting “arty” smaller film I saw this year so far was Diane built around an incredible performance by Mary Kay Place as a woman dealing with her own mortality and family struggles. It was written and directed by film critic (and I think first time director) Kent Jones and it pushed me to think and to feel the way a great film does even if it lost me at points. As one review said: “Diane is a patient, meticulously detailed portrait of the type of woman who never gets a movie made about her.”

It was executive produced by Martin Scorsese. He’s not just talking the talk on this issue.
posted by sallybrown at 5:48 AM on November 5, 2019 [28 favorites]


He's not wrong that cinematic film is a more blockbuster-centric, less varied experience than it once was. But options for the small screen are several dozen times more plentiful than when I was a kid and several orders of magnitude better.

We are less likely to get a Bonnie and Clyde in 2019, but 1967 couldn't dream of having When They See Us.

Wringing your hands that filmmaking is a dying art while sheepishly admitting that oh yeah, I got to make exactly what I wanted on Netflix a service which just so happens to make more content than all of the film studios put together... It's less a real argument about loss of quality in filmmaking than an old man yelling at a cloud because he doesn't like the things he can see at the picture show with buttered popcorn.

As for his contempt for superhero movies... What do you want to bet he can wax nostalgic about old serials?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:49 AM on November 5, 2019 [16 favorites]


Scorsese isn't wrong.

But also, "Get off of my lawn you kids!"
posted by docjohn at 5:51 AM on November 5, 2019


I've seen every MCU movie (except for that Edward Norton one) and they're fine but there's not a single one that I really love. Some critic I heard, maybe Josh Larson, said that Marvel films have both a ceiling and floor for quality; they're seldom terrible but never great either.

With a few exceptions the cinematography is bland, the fight scenes are mostly generic and the inevitable third act battles are so boring than I almost fall asleep during them. Shockingly, for films that cost so much, the CGI is often shoddy looking. The last battles in both Infinity War and Black Panther looked like video games.
posted by octothorpe at 5:52 AM on November 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


Not every meal has to be from a three star Michelin kitchen. The mac and cheese your mom makes is just as valid.

It's valid as food yes, but that's such a dismissive attitude towards the work that chefs put into their craft, it's also besides the point in this context. Scorsese is describing a space where all the resources available are being put into making mac and cheese because it's safe and it sells well and food that isn't just more mac and cheese is less and less available.
posted by Ferreous at 5:52 AM on November 5, 2019 [54 favorites]


i love a lot of scorcese movies, but what percentage of them are about mobsters or thugs? i mean come on

I don't think he's arguing against the concept of genre.
posted by um at 5:53 AM on November 5, 2019 [16 favorites]


Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse was freaking fantastic art. It dared to break rules in story-telling, was visually genius and fun. It dealt with emotional risk and insecurity which was grounded in the characters and not just tagged on

I agree with Marty regarding the rest.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:53 AM on November 5, 2019 [28 favorites]


He's right. Most MCU movies are power fantasy soap operas which, because they're ALL CONNECTED (oooooh!) is supposed to grant them depth and resonance, but only serves to underline how much the same many of them are. There are exceptions, of course, and they are the ones that come from a unique, singular vision.

But to pretend that moves like Captain Marvel, The Avengers, and the like don't have flat dialogue, a formulaic structure that practically rings a bell every time it hits a required moment, and overwrought self-importance based on eye-roll-worthy manufactured stakes is to indulge in fannish acceptance.

AND AND AND! That's fine. There should be movies like the MCU movies. There always have been and there always will be. The problem is that they are crowding out the medium-sized, original stories. And, even worse, we're being asked to treat them like more than the fun fantasies that they are.
posted by papercake at 5:55 AM on November 5, 2019 [18 favorites]


Scorsese already directed a movie about the most popular superhero of all time, so whatever.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:55 AM on November 5, 2019 [11 favorites]


They do give a crap about it, look at all the backlash at the "not cinema"comment in the first place. A lot of franchise film fans want to think they're put upon underdogs when the media they consume is the most prevalent form in the world.

That's true, but they want the word "art" to mean something different than Scorsese does. That's why these kinds of arguments happen. There are reasons why one can say Scorsese's view is too limited and his own work can certainly be labeled "problematic", but the way the words are being used is at the heart of the problem and makes discussing it difficult since there isn't likely to be agreement over what "art" means in this context.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:55 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


My first reaction is, this sounds like literary snobs and their reflexive contempt for "genre fiction."

My second is, he does make a valid point, but superhero movies are far from the only films that are not really "art" in the sense that he seems to mean.
posted by Foosnark at 5:56 AM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


Oh for sure, there's lots of non-superhero films that aren't cinema by his definition but the whole cinematic universe franchise concept is what has thoroughly metastasized the medium.
posted by Ferreous at 6:00 AM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


One thing I remember being fascinated by when I was learning about how the world works was the fact that studios could bankroll both formulaic big budget blockbusters and niche art pieces, and that in many ways the boring predictability of the former bankrolled the risks of the latter. And with the MCU, I wouldn’t call Guardians of the Galaxy or Black Panther “cinema” either, but I do see them as taking new risks in that formula that were bankrolled by the earlier success of The Avengers. It’s just ... the risks are so very incremental.

Which is all to say, I do hope that Disney does take its new muscularity in the marketplace as an position to take more risks and keep open opportunities for doing really new things. Marvel movies have some interesting depths that they explore with their characters but every film still ends with people punching their way to a conclusion. Give us that Cap story where Steve doesn’t want to punch anyone and just wants to find his way to his dance with Peggy while journeying through the multiverse. Or give us something of that world but isn’t saddled down with decades of lore and fan service.

The films have value as art that pleases so many and as moneymakers but let that money fund something that genuinely surprises us.
posted by bl1nk at 6:04 AM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


The "cinematic universe" concept has existed at least since Abbot and Costello met Frankenstein, though. Probably longer than that.

The Marx Brothers basically kicked off the whole "remakes in spirit" thing before Scorcese was even born. Though I guess their "cinematic universe" (launched via remakes from another medium, even) has more bad/mediocre than good in it as well.
posted by davros42 at 6:06 AM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I think it’s important that he’s motivated here not just by his dislike of the films themselves, but also by the economics around their production, which is what distinguishes his complaints from a “get off my lawn” rant. They are not just not art, but (in his argument) actively blocking art that could be happening.

Sure, he loves his thugs (many of whom are not mobsters, but ordinary people acting in thuggish ways), but to say that is repetitive or not art is confusing subject matter with meaning. Going by his own resume, I don’t think we can say he has a problem with genre pictures—it’s all about what you do with the film.
posted by sallybrown at 6:07 AM on November 5, 2019 [14 favorites]


Hoping for disney to do anything beyond trying to increase their market share and make the most money with the least risk is like hoping for snow in Dubai.
posted by Ferreous at 6:07 AM on November 5, 2019 [10 favorites]


Not everyone agrees. Sorry Marty, but Captain America is daring, serious art

I think this piece entirely misses the point. The end of Infinity War carried no weight because the audience immediately knew that there would be a follow-up movie that undid Thanos' victory. Spider-Man crumbling to dust was emotionally meaningless because the audience knew Tom Holland had already been cast in the next Spider-Man movie.

If Robert Downey Jr wanted to play Iron Man again, and the studio thought there was money in it, then there would be more Iron Man movies notwithstanding the end of Endgame. Stark would just be a clone or from an alternative dimension or resurrected with nanobots or some other bullshit. The audience knows this, so there's no risk to killing off Iron Man in the big finale.
posted by um at 6:09 AM on November 5, 2019 [39 favorites]


There are a lot of things that seem to be attributed to Scorcese's remarks that are not there. He is not saying the MCU is terrible or that the films are damaging in themselves. I have seen all the MCU stuff and I have enjoyed it. It is also not something that has revealed anything deep about myself, others, or the world at large. His statement is fairly anodyne. They are fluff, they are not his preferred flavor of fluff. Fluff is fine. Fluff has always been with us. When fluff sucks up all the available resources and leaves no room for other fare there is a problem. His op-ed is thoughtful, kind, and respectful. Maybe that should be the note we should all take in these kinds of aesthetic discussions.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 6:10 AM on November 5, 2019 [41 favorites]


An old said something bad about comic book movies. To the barricades!
posted by thelonius at 6:11 AM on November 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


Sounds like the porn vs. erotica argument to me. Cinema is movies he likes mere film or whatever is movies he doesn't. And he's just trying to fancy up his preference to pretend it's something other than personal preference.

It's almost exactly like Ebert arguing that video games are not and never can be art, basically because Ebert didn't like games.
posted by sotonohito at 6:12 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


If you ignore all the supporting arguments of the op-ed I guess that is a takeaway.
posted by Ferreous at 6:15 AM on November 5, 2019 [22 favorites]


The "not cinema" distinction still feels a little arbitrary to me

A little? It's utterly, completely arbitrary and quite absurd that Scorcese continues to propound it as given.
posted by mediareport at 6:16 AM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


watching some grimdark anti-hero groaning at the screen for two hours.

that's not a very nice thing to say about Michelle Pfeiffer

anyway yes it's true many people can only consider multidimentional human sorrow and suffering when they've first boiled it down to some twee compound slangphrase. grimdark, sadbad, hardart, bigconfusing, and so on.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:19 AM on November 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


What do you want to bet he can wax nostalgic about old serials?

Yes, but he doesn't confuse them with Bresson. That's the difference between him and the people offended by his comment.

Are there amazing movies being made today? Undoubtedly. Will MCU movies be among them? Nope. Because that's not their purpose. Their purpose is to make as much money as possible regardless of anything else.

James Gunn thinking his raccoon movies are Oscar material is laughable. (And yes, I've seen the first one.) Outrage over Black Panther not being nominated? Ridiculous. (Again, I've seen it.)

The mac and cheese your mom makes is just as valid.

Again, this misses the point. Yes, mac and cheese is "valid". Scorsese probably loved his mother's cooking. The situation isn't "Michelin restaurants everywhere and occasional mac & cheese". The situation is the only thing on the menu -- on all the menus -- is mac & cheese. it's not the exception, it's the rule; that is Scorsese and Coppola's complaint. B movies have been around since movies began. The problem is that they're now A movies and there's very little room for challenging material to see the light of day in a theater.

On preview, um and Ignorantsavage said it much better than I.
posted by dobbs at 6:20 AM on November 5, 2019 [31 favorites]


Oh, these movies are art alright, but mostly fascist art. They exist in a universe where moral absolutes exist and barely human ubermensch are judge, jury and executioner. Not for nothing, most of these movies end up with the villain being executed by the heroes. They are, with a couple of exceptions, masturbatory dreamworlds for the right.
posted by Omon Ra at 6:21 AM on November 5, 2019 [52 favorites]


The Odyssey was a thinly veiled excuse to bring back popular characters from the Iliad in order to have them jump from one set piece adventure to another with the barest thread of plot connecting them together. Odysseus' visit with (spoiler alert) Achilles in Hades is pure fan service. The depiction of the sirens feels tawdry, and the gore factor in Polyphemus' cave unnecessary. The pacing is a mess, with several years of time simply unaccounted for, and the final battle feels rushed and anticlimactic.

Great special effects tho.
posted by logicpunk at 6:21 AM on November 5, 2019 [28 favorites]


That's pretty much the viewpoint of the MCU that I would expect from someone like Scorsese.

The scathing indictment of Marvel that hit me way too close to home came not from a highly respected auteur, but some wag over on reddit who said that the MCU was Harry Potter for people that make fun of Harry Potter.

Ok, yeah. That stings.
posted by davelog at 6:26 AM on November 5, 2019 [17 favorites]


What do you want to bet he can wax nostalgic about old serials?

Old serials were made for no money and were intended for kids. They didn't suck up all the available money for filmmaking and they didn't push everything else out of the theaters.
posted by octothorpe at 6:32 AM on November 5, 2019 [19 favorites]


The end of Infinity War carried no weight because the audience immediately knew that there would be a follow-up movie that undid Thanos' victory. Spider-Man crumbling to dust was emotionally meaningless because the audience knew Tom Holland had already been cast in the next Spider-Man movie.

I'm going to have to disagree, as this is basically arguing that "cliffhangers are meaningless and emotionally empty," which is a silly notion. Just because we know that there's still another act to go doesn't mean that the villain winning doesn't have weight,and that there won't be real impact from it that continues.

Yes, but he doesn't confuse them with Bresson. That's the difference between him and the people offended by his comment.

The point that people criticizing his position are making is how much of that "difference" is actual difference, and how much is just snobbery? You have always had people using genre fiction to tell tales about the human condition, and being dismissed by virtue of working in genre fiction.

I thought that Bob Chipman's take on the matter was a good overview, because he points out how much of this is really about how hollow Hollywood is today, and the disappearance of the mid-major film.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:33 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


popular characters from the Iliad

you have discovered a great truth: that if you describe any piece of art in terms that make it sound as dumb as a comic book movie, it will sound as dumb as a comic book movie. some people might consider this a reason to borrow or invent some critical vocabulary.

yes, the pacing of the Odyssey would seem strange and challenging to someone who has never encountered non-linear storytelling or nested narratives before. watching a few good serious films can do a surprising amount to prepare you for its tricks.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:34 AM on November 5, 2019 [16 favorites]


But I grew up when I did and I developed a sense of movies — of what they were and what they could be — that was as far from the Marvel universe as we on Earth are from Alpha Centauri.

Alpha Centauri is literally the closest other star system to Earth besides the sun. It's right next door. /pedantic
posted by jabah at 6:34 AM on November 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


OK, boomer.

(I largely agree with him as a Gen-X)
posted by SoberHighland at 6:35 AM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


The trends he describes are only going to get worse as Disney eats more and more of the media landscape. I think that the raw evil of Disney as a corporation makes it even funnier that liberal types love the type of Great Man heroism on display in your average MCU film.
posted by codacorolla at 6:42 AM on November 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


I think he means risk on the part of the viewer, but I'm not sure,

I think he does too.

and I'm not sure what that would be.

What about emotional risk? What about the risk of disappointment, of having your expectations not met: Endgame made sure that as many people as possible got their fanservice delivered. If that movie caused you to hope for a thing, it was because it intended to deliver that thing either five minutes later or in the big setpiece at the end. There is no risk of being wrong about what will happen. There is no risk that the film will put you in an emotional state you didn't expect to be in.

There is no risk of surprise.
posted by PMdixon at 6:43 AM on November 5, 2019 [15 favorites]


I think it was Truffaut who posited a distinction between Movies, Film and Cinema - three arbitrarily chosen signifiers for three distinct ways of doing it, with separate audience expectations. Endgame is undoubtedly a Great Movie, Oscar-winners are often (though not always) middling Films and there's a lot of dreary Cinema. (And, of course, many great, middling and dreary examples of each.) The critical filters we apply to one often don't work for the others - if Scorsese represents the dismissive attitude of the Film audience at a Marvel movie, a Movie audience at Last Year at Marienbad is likely to be just as dismissive (if not more so), and just as unfair. Movies are the most interesting in a lot of ways - something like Fury Road can be complex and disciplined and intelligent while at the same time remaining a Movie.
posted by Grangousier at 6:46 AM on November 5, 2019 [11 favorites]


OK, boomer.

Let's not.

For what it's worth, I think that he makes a correct statement here, but draws the wrong conclusion:

The situation, sadly, is that we now have two separate fields: There’s worldwide audiovisual entertainment, and there’s cinema. They still overlap from time to time, but that’s becoming increasingly rare. And I fear that the financial dominance of one is being used to marginalize and even belittle the existence of the other.

For anyone who dreams of making movies or who is just starting out, the situation at this moment is brutal and inhospitable to art.


As with music, we're currently in the middle of a near-miraculous golden age of artistic creativity. The tools for making excellent movies have largely been commodified, and the barrier to entry for making movies has never been lower. Those movies are not likely to be part of what's become the entertainment-industrial-complex, sure, but same as with music, there is more (and more great) movies (long, short, any) being made right now, and more new cinematic ideas being attempted - whether they succeed or fail - than ever before.

It's hard to see past the news but right now, today, we are in the middle of one of the greatest artistic periods of human history.
posted by mhoye at 6:47 AM on November 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


There is no risk of being wrong about what will happen. There is no risk that the film will put you in an emotional state you didn't expect to be in.

Or of feeling uncomfortable, or of walking out of the theater thinking “I didn’t understand why...” or “Maybe I’m wrong about...” and not being able to stop thinking about it.

People can like films that aren’t art (TONS of people do!), just like they can like potato chips without going “Well Actually they’re made from potatoes, so they’re vegetables too.” And people can HATE films that are art, I do it all the time. The question of artistic merit and the question of enjoyment are not the same.
posted by sallybrown at 6:51 AM on November 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


OK, boomer.

Let's not.


Let's.

* "The old times were better" check
* "What you like doesn't have the value of what I like" check
* "Examining what's wrong with your stuff is better than self-reflection on my part" (i.e. a career glorifying toxic masculinity) check
* "I'm going to bash the current state of things while still taking advantage of them" (i.e. Netflix) check

ok boomer
posted by gwint at 6:52 AM on November 5, 2019 [32 favorites]


old meme is old my dudes
posted by um at 6:54 AM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


One of the other things that's related to all of this is the need for movies to be as internationally marketable as possible, comic book films are perfect for that because they don't need huge cultural knowledge of where they're made or necessarily lose information in translation. Large green man tearing apart robots makes just as much sense in China as it does in the US. A slow burn character driven film probably won't do as well in foreign theaters. Disney is never going to leave money on the table so they'll make sure everything is as flat as possible when it comes to international marketing.
posted by Ferreous at 6:54 AM on November 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


Not sure the “ok boomer” people would enjoy being lined up in defense of corporate Marvel films beloved by boomer fanboys.
posted by sallybrown at 6:54 AM on November 5, 2019 [13 favorites]


The best trick the devil ever played was convincing people that gangsters beating each other to death with baseball bats was the definition of "cinema"
posted by gwint at 6:58 AM on November 5, 2019 [12 favorites]


This is one of those pointless, unsolvable debates that exists in the book industry and the music industry and the film industry and the theatre industry and every industry in which human expression is packaged up and sold to other people. Some of that expression will be great, some of it will be terrible, and some of each of the great and terrible will be popular.

I am a bit curious about his repeated assertion about wanting to see their films on the big screen and how being on Netflix is some major loss. Does a thoughtful character piece really need to be two stories high to make an impact? I mean, I know people with screens in their rec rooms that are almost as big as the smaller screens in some theaters.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:59 AM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


I was being half-sarcastic in bringing up the "OK" comment. But it really does apply here, at least as much as all the other points being made. Scorseses films, in addition to constantly glorifying toxic masculinity, glorify absurd violence, blood, guts and vicious criminality more than any other film maker I can think of. He made a lot of great films, but also a megaton of big budget Gangster-porn.

I live in Chicago. Wife and I wanted to " go see a movie". We are not film snobs, or "students of cinema" or anything like that. But all the mega-plexus nearby were playing superhero stuff, franchise FastFurious stuff and kid's cartoon stuff. The sort of nearby art-house cinema place was playing? Joker.

Maybe next week, honey.
posted by SoberHighland at 7:00 AM on November 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


i love a lot of scorcese movies, but what percentage of them are about mobsters or thugs? i mean come on

Scorseses films, in addition to constantly glorifying toxic masculinity, glorify absurd violence, blood, guts and vicious criminality more than any other film maker I can think of. He made a lot of great films, but also a megaton of big budget Gangster-porn.

Of all the hot takes on Scorsese, this one always astonishes me. People have this idea that all Scorsese directs is gangster movies, but that's not true. Most of his movies are not remotely about "mobsters or thugs" — by my count, those are about a third of his output. Sure, Mean Streets and Goodfellas and The Irishman, but also Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and New York, New York and freaking Hugo. This is a guy who has adapted Nikos Kazantzakis and Edith Wharton (!), painstakingly documented the early years of Bob Dylan's career, and made a biopic about the Dalai Lama that was so effective that Disney's CEO actually apologized to the Chinese government and more or less suppressed the film for two decades. (Contrast that with Disney's Doctor Strange, which actually wrote out its Tibetan character in order to avoid political controversy.)

Are his most famous movies about gangsters and thugs? Sure. He's very good at making them, and they sell tickets. But his career consistently pivots away from them, not toward them, as he experiments relentlessly with other styles and genres. His work is easily as varied as any other major filmmaker, but he seldom gets credit for it from people who only know the blockbusters.

For me, the essential passage from the Scorsese piece is this one:
Many films today are perfect products manufactured for immediate consumption. Many of them are well made by teams of talented individuals. All the same, 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.
No matter how much you like Captain Marvel or Black Panther, those movies are made by committee. There is no individual artist in charge -- Edgar Wright found that out when he signed up to make Ant-Man and got his ass fired over "creative differences." (Yeah, I know the story goes that he quit, but he also notes that "they wanted to do a [screenplay] draft without me" and that sounds like he was told he was gonna do it Marvel's way or just get out of the way.)
posted by Mothlight at 7:03 AM on November 5, 2019 [40 favorites]


Weird that the "boomer" take here is portrayed as attacking sexist, queer-erasing movies instead of defending them.
posted by No One Ever Does at 7:04 AM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


I've liked some of the superhero movies and been lukewarm-to-negative about a lot of them (Iron Man doesn't do it for me, Captain America doesn't do it for me, the Avengers really don't do it for me). I personally found the movies I've watched from those three franchises incredibly shallow and the moral absolutism in them, as someone mentioned above, pretty disturbing. I still think Scorcese is full of shit. Or, to be more precise, he's taking the things that he knows and loves, that have touched him, and drawing his definitions narrowly around that. That doesn't demonstrate any particular depth to his position; it demonstrates that he's not able to see outside his own perspective.

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. The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes.

I haven't seen the particular Gene Kelly/Stanley Donnen movie he lists as being among the greats, but does it really have revelation, mystery, and emotional danger? If so, it's unlike any other Hollywood musical I've ever seen, unless his definition of revelation includes things like the revelation of a great song or of an amazing dance, in which case I'm not sure why the revelation of the stunning afrofuturism of Black Panther or the incredible animation of Spiderverse wouldn't qualify.

Can a comedy never count as art, then, if it doesn't have revelation, mystery, and emotional danger? I think The Importance of Being Earnest is art, even though I don't think it really plumbed the depths of the human psyche. Can a movie about Apollo 13 never have a sense of mystery or emotional danger, even when you know that things end okay? Can a romance not be art, even when you know the form demands a happy ending? Does La La Land's being about a jerk who takes his frustrations out on his girlfriend, instead of ultimately deciding to value her most, actually elevate that movie into art? I think Scorcese might say it does, and I think that's pretty silly.

There's this perception that work that doesn't address the darker part of human nature isn't True Art, that lighter genres are frivolous and therefore can't be Art, that the story of a person or relationship or family maintaining their love, happiness, generosity, or decency over the course of their lives is inherently less interesting than the 50,000th version of some man's inevitable descent into corruption or madness or violence or whatever, the millionth exploration of his losing struggle against the darkness within him and society. It's not that that's not a fine theme, and clearly it's what moves Scorcese, but it's only a tiny part of what art encompasses, and to not be able to acknowledge that betrays a serious set of blinders.

Also, just because he and I apparently don't find any depth or revelation in the Avengers movies that we've seen (I haven't watched them all and I'll bet he hasn't either), that doesn't mean no one else does. That they didn't open new worlds to me or make me think or feel things I'd never thought or felt before doesn't mean I can dismiss all the people who claim those movies have had that effect on them, any more than I can dismiss all those people who found The Godfather amazing just because it left me unmoved and all I can remember about it is the horse and the misogyny. (I know that's not a Scorcese movie, but I haven't watched any of his because, what can I say, I don't get off on machismo and guns the themes his work seems to center have never affected me in the way he describes, or helped me better to understand the ugliness that's omnipresent in real life.)

Scorcese wants to define art as what is “heroic and visionary”, but we don't all recognize heroism and vision in the same things, and I personally believe art encompasses worlds more than that.
posted by trig at 7:05 AM on November 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


On more reflection, while it's easy to blow this off with OK boomer and move on, I think we really are seeing another iteration in a fairly continuous cycle of art vs art that has nothing to do really with age or generation.

I think Scorsese's argument is basically the same as Margaret Atwood insisting that what she writes isn't science fiction because science fiction is talking squid and going faster than light with antigravity boots.

It's porn vs. erotica, it's posh art vs popular art, it's pop music vs indie rock. It's the urge some artists feel to claim that what they do is superior to what others do and further that popularity is an inverse measure of superiority.

We can see articles written with much the same tone by indie rock fans about pop music. Or gamers into old school style gaming about AAA games. Or that article linked here on Metafilter a while back about fashion vs fashion.

And the thing is, there is always a tiny kernel of truth in those arguments. I think overall the arguments are bogus, but there is something at the root and that something is Sturgeon's Law:
I repeat Sturgeon's Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. is crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.
So yes, most movies are kind of bland popcorn experiences. Where I think the Scorsese's and the Atwoods and the Indy Rock purists and so on get it deeply wrong is that they've falsely identified their own preferred style as the exception. Scorsese seems to be arguing that ostensibly arty films with messages are "cinema" and therefore categorically different from the mere movies or film that has the 90% of crap.

But 90% of "cinema" is also crap. 90% of Indie Rock is crap. 90% of old school games are crap. 90% of those books written to be the Great American Novel are crap. For every Lolita there's hundreds of pretentious, bland, forgettable, empty novels that strive for that high art label and just aren't worth reading.

He's also falsely concluding that somehow the high art to pop art ratio in movies is getting more biased towards pop art which is purely nostalgia distorting his memories as any examination of the lists of movies produced in, say, 1957 will prove. The high art drama pieces have never been the rule and have always been the exception and have never been the big moneymakers.

In 2018 they made high drama movies, pieces Scorsese would classify as superior cinema over mere audiovisual entertainment, they haven't been eradicated or even more pushed to the side than they were in the 1950's. Look at 1954. The top grossing film that year was Rear Window, a mere thriller, followed by White Christmas and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. None "cinema", all mere audiovisual entertainment. On the Waterfront, the movie that won the 1955 Academy Award for best picture, didn't even crack the top ten highest grossing movies of 1954.

And 1954 is not an exception anymore than 2018 is. The top grossing movies of 2018 were popcorn flicks. Exactly the same as it always has been for the entire history of moviemaking. The money is with light popular stuff not deep artsy stuff. But the deep artsy stuff keeps getting made.

I think Scorsese is simply wrong in both his premise and conclusion. Things didn't used to be better, things aren't getting worse, what we see now is what we've always seen. And everyone into the more artsy things, for all time, has always complained bitterly that the great unwashed masses just don't appreciate the magnificence of their preferred style of art.
posted by sotonohito at 7:05 AM on November 5, 2019 [20 favorites]


comic book films are perfect for that because they don't need huge cultural knowledge of where they're made or necessarily lose information in translation

I guess, sort of (the movies indeed do well in China), but this is ignoring the fact that all of these licensed IP films are doing extremely well because people know and are familiar with these characters as archetypes and bring their own emotional resonance to their viewing experience, even before the movie starts. I can't really engage with Scorsese's argument because my frame of reference when it comes to interacting with these movies is so different from his.

Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse wouldn't have worked as well without the decades of Spider-Man movies, television shows, and comics that came before, telling us who Peter Parker is and how we should feel about him. Logan was expecting their audience to be familiar with what Hugh Jackman as Wolverine looked like in order for them to be unsettled by the change of direction. Imagine watching Thor Ragnarok as your first superhero film, without the idea of what a superhero film should be.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:05 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


If you want a film that brutally rips toxic masculinity (as well as eerily predicts the rise of Trump), check out Scorsese’s The King of Comedy.
posted by sallybrown at 7:06 AM on November 5, 2019 [10 favorites]


I am a bit curious about his repeated assertion about wanting to see their films on the big screen and how being on Netflix is some major loss. Does a thoughtful character piece really need to be two stories high to make an impact?

Large home projection screens w/ HD quality are a relatively recent phenomenon and still the purview of the privileged. Just like musicians want to play stadiums with crazy stage shows, so filmmakers want their movies to be literally larger than life. It is a natural impulse that correlates with ambition.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:08 AM on November 5, 2019


My takeaway is this: For the fandom, it's not enough that comic films are the dominant form of movies, it's not enough that they suck most of the resources out of the room, it's not enough that they're designed to give their viewers exactly what they want. No, they need their preferred media to held up as being on equal or greater footing that everything that came before.

They are given exactly what they want in spades and still are so insecure that any criticism causes them to lash out. Scorsese saying vaguely mean things about marvel films isn't going to stop 8 more of them coming out every year.
posted by Ferreous at 7:09 AM on November 5, 2019 [31 favorites]


It's hard to see past the news but right now, today, we are in the middle of one of the greatest artistic periods of human history.

We are? It has become harder and harder for artists to sustain themselves as professionals, barring the handful who get lucky. Part of what's driving this discussion is the disappearance of the mid-major motion picture, which was the industry's vehicle for taking risks. Our artistic culture has been hollowed out, and that has had serious repercussions.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:10 AM on November 5, 2019 [11 favorites]


The top grossing film that year was Rear Window, a mere thriller

The Rear Window he specifically discusses in this piece as art.

Scorsese has never poo-poohed genre film, he’s spent his career embracing it. The argument he’s making is not against genre, popcorn flicks, B movies, etc, it’s about a set of movies backed by billion-dollar corporations that are flooding theaters and drowning out other films.
posted by sallybrown at 7:11 AM on November 5, 2019 [26 favorites]


Seriously Scorsese should have virtually just written the second half of that piece because 90% of readers are just going to fixate on whether Hollywood movies are art or not.

There should be more recognition that art cinema and popular movies can both be classist, and that is the hidden source of the disagreement--the dual accusations of snobbery versus crass marketing shows this dynamic.
posted by polymodus at 7:11 AM on November 5, 2019


something essential to cinema: the unifying vision of an individual artist. Because, of course, the individual artist is the riskiest factor of all.

Then no Merchant and Ivory film can be art; the Donnen and Kelly movie he explicitly mentions can't be art; and the contributions of actors, composers and musicians, cinematographers, and especially editors must be downplayed as much as possible, because to do otherwise would dilute the heroic image of the lone visionary.

To say that the artistic core of a movie can be damaged by profit-centered demands is one thing, but to restrict art to purely individual efforts is to ignore how much art, including his own, is actually made.
posted by trig at 7:12 AM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


The top grossing film that year was Rear Window, a mere thriller

I suggest you watch Rear Window again.
posted by Automocar at 7:15 AM on November 5, 2019 [22 favorites]


I found this piece rather thoughtful and I say this as someone who likes Marvel movies a great deal. I think the discussion around risk taking is an old, but necessary discussion to continue having.

However, one part did rankle and it was this:

Many films today are perfect products manufactured for immediate consumption. Many of them are well made by teams of talented individuals. All the same, 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.


The idea that a film is ONLY the vision of the director completely ignores that film is a collaborative endeavor. It ignores the visions of the costume designers, set designers, cinematographers, screenwriters, score composers, editors, etc. Yes, the director is in charge, but I'd compare it to a river, where a bunch of smaller visions flow into a larger one. And the idea it's just ONE person's vision is really short sighted. Yes, it isn't a corporate committee, but if you want a piece of art that is actually the vision of one person, you need to switch mediums.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 7:18 AM on November 5, 2019 [15 favorites]


a career glorifying toxic masculinity

An absurd statement. You either haven't seen a Scorsese movie or didn't understand the ones you've seen. Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, and Goodfellas do not in any way "glorify" masculinity. Their central characters end up alone, dead, or in prison. His characters are generally condemned, not glorified.

The best trick the devil ever played was convincing people that gangsters beating each other to death with baseball bats was the definition of "cinema"

To the best of my memory -- and admittedly I'm not taxing it too hard -- this has never happened in a Scorsese movie.

Perhaps you're confusing him with Brian De Palma.
posted by dobbs at 7:19 AM on November 5, 2019 [13 favorites]


Let me preface this by saying I really like superhero movies. I saw "Endgame" twice in the theatres. Loved it both times.

But honestly? My favorite things are still character-based films and non-musical theatre and weirdo literary fiction and and a bunch of stuff that gets dismissively written off as the province of snobs and elitists whenever any of their creators or fans offer up a less than sterling opinion of , say, the multibajillion dollar megacorporate franchise behemoth that is Marvel movies (or whatever).

Fans of superhero movies and previously maligned lovers of genre: you've won. You've achieved something like complete cultural world domination. Why does it matter that the poetry kids won't publish your fanfic in the literary magazine that no one reads? It is no longer punching down to talk shit about comic books or fantasy novels. Those are the very top of the cultural pyramid right now. And being on the recieving end of someone like an award-winning, blockbuster film maker like Martin Scorcese feeling like he has to clarify his completely valid, if not totally flattering opinion onis the very small price of being an unprecedented, era-defining success on global level. So take your victory lap and let the art kids gripe. Sometimes it's all we have left.

And with that, I'll Ok Boomer myself back out the door.
posted by thivaia at 7:19 AM on November 5, 2019 [36 favorites]


And 1954 is not an exception anymore than 2018 is. The top grossing movies of 2018 were popcorn flicks. Exactly the same as it always has been for the entire history of moviemaking. The money is with light popular stuff not deep artsy stuff. But the deep artsy stuff keeps getting made.

How do you write something nearly as long as the FPP editorial and miss the point so completely? This is about the system of production, not about absolute qualities of the individual films.
posted by codacorolla at 7:21 AM on November 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


I groan at the thought of all the real life dude-bros, past and future, doing their "Do I amuse you?" routines, and expecting laughter.
posted by SoberHighland at 7:22 AM on November 5, 2019


(Contrast that with Disney's Doctor Strange, which actually wrote out its Tibetan character in order to avoid political controversy.)

This is one of those lines that annoys me to no end, because it avoids actually looking at the history of the character in order to try to make a cheap point. Was China a factor in rewriting The Master? Of course. But it wasn't the only factor - the character had been historically one of the worst sorts of stereotype - the Asian mystic whose connection to those powers was built on using that for an air of foreign mysticism (not surprising, given that Doctor Strange was created during the psychedelic era.) But that sort of characterization is no longer acceptable to use, which is why both the character and their organization saw rewrites to move away from that.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:24 AM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


Fans of superhero movies and previously maligned lovers of genre: you've won. You've achieved something like complete cultural world domination.

This comment FTW. Popular culture has been in an incessant Revenge Of The Nerds since, I don't know, 2003? It is a really slick move the industry has pulled to simultaneously oversaturate the market with nerd porn and also convince every fan that they are still the underdog.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:24 AM on November 5, 2019 [13 favorites]


There is something to be said about the sheer amount of weird television(and not weird, and arty, and whatever the hell Apple TV's starting lineup is) that's available right now, and maybe that's where we should be looking at instead of the mid-range arthouse cinema experience.

There is still a lot of stuff that television doesn't do well - but in terms of the range of stories, of giving us unexpected situations and interesting characters and being able to spend time on coherent emotional arcs - along with being relatively inexpensive to consume - it's fantastic. There's a glut of absolutely amazing stuff (and then maybe interesting but flawed stuff that's great to talk about) to watch!

Honestly, the thing that bothers me most about his arguments is not about the superhero cinema, but claiming that Netflix and other streaming services are the enemies of masterfully done new televisual experiences (there are good arguments made about what's happening to the accessibility of the back catalog, I admit). He doesn't want to make television over and over, and the only thing I can attribute it to is just basic film snobbery.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:25 AM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse was freaking fantastic art. It dared to break rules in story-telling, was visually genius and fun. It dealt with emotional risk and insecurity which was grounded in the characters and not just tagged on

Agreed, spider-verse was brilliant, but i hear they're going to make more of it, thus we'll be forced to refer to it as spider-verse 1, and they will feed the sequels to us as long as our mouths are full and overflowing and we can't be surprised anymore by anything going on in this verse. Such is the logic - if it works: more of the same until infinity.
posted by sapagan at 7:29 AM on November 5, 2019


Why does it matter that the poetry kids won't publish your fanfic in the literary magazine that no one reads?

Because for decades, those same kids routinely sneered at genre fiction and related works as being "not proper Art", like their work. Is it no wonder why fans now would want the acknowledgment?
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:30 AM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


um: "Spider-Man crumbling to dust was emotionally meaningless because the audience knew Tom Holland had already been cast in the next Spider-Man movie"

With respect, this wasn't my experience, nor that of those around me in the audience on seeing this the first time.
posted by chavenet at 7:31 AM on November 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


It's the dominant form of media, isn't that acknowledgement enough?
posted by Ferreous at 7:32 AM on November 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


This is one of those lines that annoys me to no end, because it avoids actually looking at the history of the character in order to try to make a cheap point.

Let me apologize then for overlooking the racist nature of the character in favor of making that point. I suspect the character would have been rewritten even if it weren't a noxious stereotype, but that's hypothetical.
posted by Mothlight at 7:35 AM on November 5, 2019


Yeah, you ever see that old movie, Empire Strikes Back? Luke gets his hand cut off and finds out Vader's his father; Han gets frozen and taken away by Boba Fett.
posted by Molesome at 7:35 AM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


He doesn't want to make television over and over, and the only thing I can attribute it to is just basic film snobbery.

This is a fair point, but I'm one of those people who would still rather go to the movies. Making movies for a big screen is different than making movies for a small screen. And I find the experience of watching something--especially a film that invests a lot in its cinematography-- in a theatre to be materially different than watching it on my laptop. It's not just the scope, but the occasional moments of--not quite live theatre, but almost group catharsis that comes when something on a screen really hits (this happens, by the way, in superhero movies) and you know everyone in the room is with you. I love that. And I get that it doesn't make a lot of difference for a lot of people, and that seems to be the way the world is contentedlyheaded toward alone with my iPad. But it will be a real bummer for me.
posted by thivaia at 7:36 AM on November 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


Michael Chabon has a bit in his introduction to McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales where he tweaks the modern American short story for its narrowness of genre:
"Imagine that, sometime about 1950, it had been decided, collectively, informally, a little at a time, but with finality, to proscribe every kind of novel from the canon of the future but the nurse romance... Now, because of my faith and pride in the diverse and rigorous brilliance of American writers of the last half-century, I do believe that from this bizarre decision, in this theoretical America, a dozen or more masterpieces would have emerged. Thomas Pynchon's Blitz Nurse, for example, and Cynthia Ozick's Ruth Puttermesser, R.N. One imagines, however, that this particular genre... would have paled somewhat by the year 2002. Over the last year in that oddly diminished world, somebody, somewhere, would by laying down Michael Chabon's Dr. Kavalier and Nurse Clay with a weary sigh and crying out, "Surely, oh, surely there must be more to the novel than this!"
There are definitely MCU movies that I loved. And - look, I live in central Iowa, I have to drive an hour to the closest thing to an art-house cinema - Into the Spiderverse was probably the best movie I've seen in the last year. But lately I'm putting MCU movies down with a weary sigh. You can love those movies and still be concerned about how much room they take up in the media landscape, just like you can love meat and still be concerned about how much room industrial corn and soybean farming takes up in the physical landscape.
posted by Jeanne at 7:36 AM on November 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


Spider-Man crumbling to dust was emotionally meaningless because the audience knew Tom Holland had already been cast in the next Spider-Man movie.
Still, many people have reacted strongly to that scene even though they knew that he would be back in the next movie. And the MCU made audiences care for the psychological well-being of a talking racoon, while lots of serious middle-range dramas struggle with getting us interested in SomePerson's First World problems. Indeed, I believe that a big part of the success of the MCU is that audiences have become emotionally invested in the arcs of those silly characters, thanks to Feige & co extreme attention to continuity over 11 years and 23 movies. On your left, people
posted by elgilito at 7:37 AM on November 5, 2019 [10 favorites]


"Sequels in name but they are remakes in spirit" is a great and mostly-accurate turn of phrase, but also applies to way more in the current movie industry than just superhero movies.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:37 AM on November 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


I'm in Scorsese's camp 100% on the crowding out of other film styles. Not sure I agree with his "not art" argument in his op-ed, but I'm on board with a lot of the specific points.

And I like the movies but at this point I see a Marvel movie when I'm in the mood for a "Marvel movie." They do feel pretty interchangeable to me. I mean, Ant Man has a few more jokes than Captain America but they are of a piece.

There's been a lot of Scorsese just does gangster movies defensiveness, but there's way more variety in just Scorsese's personal output than there is across all the Marvel movies by all these different directors.
posted by mark k at 7:37 AM on November 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


It's the dominant form of media, isn't that acknowledgement enough?

No, because those same kids have also had a history of sneering at popular media in the same fashion. To borrow/abuse a literary reference, think of Tom from The Great Gatsby, who looked down at Jay Gatsby from his social position, even though Gatsby was the more "successful" of the two.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:38 AM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


People seem to really hate the distinction between art and entertainment. So it’s a fuzzy distinction, everyone know that. So it isn’t predictable, everyone knows that.

But you feel it, you know it. Some things shake up your life and broaden your experience. Some don’t. And some are made specifically not to shake you up, but to make things easy. What’s so controversial about that? What is wrong with you people?
posted by argybarg at 7:39 AM on November 5, 2019 [11 favorites]


If people are given only one kind of thing and endlessly sold only one kind of thing, of course they’re going to want more of that one kind of thing.

This is another turn of phrase that seems to make sense until it doesn't. If people are given only one kind of thing, pretty soon they're going to get fed up and find ways to get other kinds of things.
posted by chavenet at 7:43 AM on November 5, 2019


Chavenet, some people. Not most.
posted by argybarg at 7:45 AM on November 5, 2019


And just for fun, here is the graph of movie releases in the US, 2000-2018. Sturgeon's Law and all that, but there is a wealth of material and not all of it is MCU.
posted by chavenet at 7:45 AM on November 5, 2019


The sort of nearby art-house cinema place was playing? Joker.

The joke is that this is actually a Scorsese movie.
posted by No Robots at 7:45 AM on November 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


My takeaway is this: For the fandom, it's not enough that comic films are the dominant form of movies, it's not enough that they suck most of the resources out of the room, it's not enough that they're designed to give their viewers exactly what they want. No, they need their preferred media to held up as being on equal or greater footing that everything that came before.

And my takeaway is completely different - it's that saying something isn't part of a group at all is far far more offensive than saying that something is a crap example of that thing. If you were to tell me that you thought Iron Man was a better movie than Casablanca (or even The Avengers better than the original Jurassic Park) I'd think you were weird. But even The Room and Birdemic are movies and are art.

I'm not that outraged about it. It just means that I'm unlikely to give Scorsese a fourth chance even if I know the three I've seen are normally considered among his worst work (Gangs of New York, The Aviator, Shutter Island). I've more to do than dig up the past glories of some sneering snob even if he once deserved his place among the firmament.

There is a huge issue in cinema with the near-disappearance of the mid-budget movie, and another one with the Marvel Movies almost all aiming merely at being good and not even bothering with trying for greatness.

As for "crowding out other film styles", the pot of money isn't a finite one; the cinema isn't part of a fixed cinema budget but comes from an entertainment budget, and I'd possibly not have gone to see the excellent Baby Driver in the cinema if I hadn't also been going at around the same time to see Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Wonder Woman (all of which I also recommend); I can go entire years without going to the cinema at all. Plus any smart major studio (like Disney) is going to want to fund smaller films out of the profits made from the blockbusters in part to ensure that there are directors with the experience for the big films, and giving the directors and actors they want to keep happy room to play with smaller budgets.

And if he were to talk about this mid-budget issue and that you can take many more risks with a $20 million budget than a $250 million budget, and that no one wants another Heaven's Gate then I'd probably agree with him. But that would require (a) insight and (b) his not to present his point in a deliberately trolly fashion.
posted by Francis at 7:48 AM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


I dunno about you, but I definitely need another wealthy white straight boomer dude telling me what is and isn't proper art.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 7:57 AM on November 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


I'd also suggest that Scorsese is raging against a shift in technology and filmmaking and viewing. A lot of the more risk taking stuff is moving to Netflix, Youtube, and Amazon. Because it's cheaper than breaking into the largely closed and insular world of Hollywood movie making that is the water in which Scorsese swims and is thus to him as inevitable and natural as breathing. And that's nothing new either, if you weren't already part of the Hollywood in club you were shut out of making movies until you could get your in. Same as today.

But an aspiring risk taking director has a much better chance of getting their stuff out there and seen today than they did in the 1950's. It won't get that flickery 24fps big screen experience that some snobs insist is utterly essential to any "cinema", but it'll get out there and maybe be big.

In part I think he's pissy because his in club is no longer the gatekeepers for making movies and he's angry at the kids these days for daring to put the risk takey stuff in a format other than Hollywood approved 24fps film in a theater.

Look, for example, at the way Hollywood did its utmost to shut out Roma, a movie that in every way **EXCEPT** being made for Netflix rather than the Hollywood machine and shown in Hollywood machine approved theaters, is a perfect example of the "cinema" that Scorsese pines for and claims is dying. But that doesn't count because it wasn't flickery 24fps in a crowded theater surrounded by crying babies and people yammering on their phones, right Martin?

Automocar Rear Window had been on my to be watched list for a couple of decades when I watched it for the first time about two months ago. So I'm pretty fresh on watching it.

And it's a nicely done light thriller. Good cinematography, nice characters, and the twist really did pull me in because Hitchcock is good at that. But it's not great art. It says nothing deep or essential about humanity and that's not a dispariagement but anyone who thinks Rear Window stands above well done semi-comic modern detective movies is letting nostalgia taint their view. It's very good and I enjoyed it a great deal. But it's about as deep as Avengers. It's no Fargo.
posted by sotonohito at 7:58 AM on November 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


Okay, one last discussion point: I'm not entirely convinced that superhero films are the cause, and not the symptom, to the lack of interesting movies in movie theaters (the movies are certainly still being made - See The Lighthouse!).

Movies are expensive and time consuming to watch in a theater. I don't have time to watch them during the weekdays; and being able to see them during a weekend is maybe something I can make time for once a month. Complaints of sequelitis and lack of new IP for movies has been going on for what seems like thirty years at this point - it's just that instead of having a bunch of milquetoast superhero movies, there were a selection of milquetoast action films, gross out comedys, and slice of life dramas. Studio consolidation and lack of interest in new or edgy IP has been going on for a very long time; and while it's gotten worse, I don't think the concept of Superhero films is to blame.

One of the movies I'm most looking forward to watching is And Then We Danced, which is about queer traditional Georgian dancers. There is not a time in my life where I would expect to be able to see that in a mainstream theater, and I don't think that the concept of superhero films is really what's keeping from being widely known. Marvel isn't kicking art house films out of the theaters, it's kicking out Crash. (so horror of horrors, I'll have to watch my interesting movies on my television at home, where I can pause if I need to and also rewatch scenes and use subtitles or not)
posted by dinty_moore at 7:59 AM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


The best trick the devil ever played was convincing people that gangsters beating each other to death with baseball bats was the definition of "cinema"

To the best of my memory -- and admittedly I'm not taxing it too hard -- this has never happened in a Scorsese movie.


Pretty sure this was Gangs of New York.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 8:05 AM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


I don't understand the us vs. them attitude on people who like art house films vs. people who like popular films. Most of the people I know like both to a certain degree. The movies I liked best that I watched this year were Into The Spiderverse and Wild Nights with Emily. There's definitely big budget movies that I plan to avoid (such as Joker) for similar reasons that I avoid certain arty movies as well. I'm the target audience for certain movies based on content, less based on budget of said movie. Admittedly, the bigger the budget movie -- the wider the target audience is because movie making is a capitalist endeavor, but the thought that people either watch one or the other doesn't map with my own experience of movie going.

I think there's an issue of access to smaller budget films that Scorsese is right to point out, but streaming services mitigate that to some degree.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 8:07 AM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


Also, in my truest of true nerd moves: the only reason why And Then We Danced is even on my radar is because of all of the research I did on Georgian history and culture for a fucking Dungeons and Dragons campaign setting. Divisions between art house/literary and genre are an outright lie, embrace the individual on its own merit.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:08 AM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


He Is Only The Imposter: I think he is right that it is difficult to tell a superhero story with sophisticated characterization that reveals something about the day to day lives of the people watching.

Counterpoint: Watchmen (but the TV series, not the movie).

If you bend or break the super hero tropes and standards, you can do some more delving into characters and motivations, but when so much is binary Good vs Evil, the options are limited.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:11 AM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


The joke is that this is actually a Scorsese movie.

The Joker fucking wishes it was a Scorsese movie. It apes his style a lot but with no substance.
posted by graventy at 8:11 AM on November 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


JustKeepSwimming:

I would argue that the people you know might be a narrow segment of the American moviegoing population.
posted by argybarg at 8:15 AM on November 5, 2019


Really, it looks like the crux of Scorcese's complaint isn't so much about the films themselves, as much as it's about what gets shown at movie theaters. I get the sense that if the smaller films had more of a chance of getting screened at everyone's local AMC multiplex, he wouldn't be grumbling about this.

But they're not. He's right that there simply isn't enough of a chance for the smaller and independent films to get a wide release in theaters; they're stuck with maybe a limited release in larger markets and then they go to Netflix, where those of us who prefer the smaller stuff have started just accepting that that's where we'll have to see those things while everyone else gets to go see the money-making stuff at the multiplex.

The thing is that it was ever thus, I think; and I'm not sure that there's anything to be done about that, save for those of us who prefer the more independent films to get more vocal about demanding they be shown in our towns. (I say this as someone who lives in New York and doesn't have to do that, but if I were living in the town where I grew up, I'd be complaining to anyone who listened about "why is the Jillson Regal not showing The Lighthouse on a single screen and devoting three screens to Malificent 2?" or whatever.

The distributors and theater owners caring more about dollar signs than they do about art is the problem, not the movies being made.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:17 AM on November 5, 2019 [14 favorites]


The battle of art-vs.-entertainment has been comprehensively won. Nearly everyone will tell you that there is no such thing as art, that people who try to make the distinction are snobs, that there’s just what you like vs. what I like.

If you take this view, take it. But you’re on no footing to congratulate yourself as if you’re making a daring point.
posted by argybarg at 8:19 AM on November 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


...That last line was too harsh, I apologize. Let's amend that:

"The distributors and theater owners having to worry as much as they do about turning a profit is the problem."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:19 AM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


Okay, one last discussion point: I'm not entirely convinced that superhero films are the cause, and not the symptom, to the lack of interesting movies in movie theaters

I'm absolutely convinced it's a symptom and only slightly less of one and for much the same reason as the current AAA video game market outside Nintendo basically consisting of sports franchises, open world action-adventure RPGs (with swords or guns and normally with Ubisoft Towers), and multiplayer shooters). When budgets grow you can take fewer risks.

If you bend or break the super hero tropes and standards, you can do some more delving into characters and motivations, but when so much is binary Good vs Evil, the options are limited.

Or when you take a hero out of their element and drop them into shades of grey worlds as in both Wonder Woman and Capain America: The Winter Soldier. Or when you pit hero against hero as in Civil War. Or when the pivotal moment isn't the big fight at the end but the trench scene when, with the world saying no the person goes forward, as in Wonder Woman. Or when the bad guy is treated as essentially a natural disaster and the solution is to decide that Asgard is a people not a place as in Thor Ragnarok.

And none of these except possibly Thor Ragnarok are really breaking the tropes in ways that don't regularly happen in the source material.
posted by Francis at 8:20 AM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


It is standard practice to interpret or critique movies through Freud, feminism, Marxism, etc.; essentially trying to unveil the hidden meaning it conveys to an audience (intentionally or not) and what its relative value might be. Superhero movies might be repressed male classicist fantasies, for example, but critiquing them aesthetically implies that there is one true reality for them, and that rubs against interpretation in theory, which is that there is no objective reality (or meta-narrative) when it comes to art or criticism. However, an auteur like Scorsese can subjectively critique the cinematic or dramatic form itself, from knowledge and expertise, and that is what earns him a free pass. Disclaimer: I didn't read the article due to a paywall and I am blindly defending Scorsese on principle. P.S., Scorsese produced Joker.
posted by Brian B. at 8:20 AM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


superhero movies are far from the only films that are not really "art" in the sense that he seems to mean.

Hell, half of Scorcese's own ouvre is not really "art" in the sense that he seems to mean. I've been on a massive Scorcese binge this year and a very significant chunk of his work - Gangs of New York, After Hours, The Aviator, The Departed, for just the most recent ones I've seen - are plodding, ordinary, mainstream motion pictures that barely aspire to, let alone achieve, the heights of "cinemah."

(The Age of Innocence was pretty solid, though. It's overlong, like almost every flick Scorcese makes, but it's beautifully done, with just a few of those silly "look at me I'm making a movie" visual tics he feels compelled to add to everything.)
posted by mediareport at 8:23 AM on November 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


Some things that aspire to be art are not, and sometimes just ordinary genre stuff surprisingly is art.

To go from that recognition to “all things are of equal value, and no one is allowed to claim otherwise” is to have no cognitive footing.
posted by argybarg at 8:25 AM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


a career glorifying toxic masculinity

An absurd statement. You either haven't seen a Scorsese movie or didn't understand the ones you've seen. Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, and Goodfellas do not in any way "glorify" masculinity. Their central characters end up alone, dead, or in prison. His characters are generally condemned, not glorified.


90% glorification, 10% condemnation. I think it was Truffaut who said "There are no anti-war movies"?

The best trick the devil ever played was convincing people that gangsters beating each other to death with baseball bats was the definition of "cinema"

To the best of my memory -- and admittedly I'm not taxing it too hard -- this has never happened in a Scorsese movie

Casino
posted by gwint at 8:26 AM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


As with music, we're currently in the middle of a near-miraculous golden age of artistic creativity. The tools for making excellent movies have largely been commodified, and the barrier to entry for making movies has never been lower. Those movies are not likely to be part of what's become the entertainment-industrial-complex, sure, but same as with music, there is more (and more great) movies (long, short, any) being made right now, and more new cinematic ideas being attempted - whether they succeed or fail - than ever before.

In a way it's true, almost anybody carries in his pocket more audio processing power than the Beattles had for Sergeant Pepper. It's very good thing, but it doesn't change the situation much. Creating music still requires time (and talent), so much time. And for films the actual number of additional humans/resources you need to shoot a movie hasn't changed that much, you still need actors, some technical crew, access to sets/locations, lighting equipment, etc....

The result will be better because money saved on film/cameras and the grading/editing tools are better, it may also take less time to edit since you're not actually splicing tapes and films.

And lets say you made a movie.... then what? You can distribute it for free rather easily, but how do you get something back?
posted by WaterAndPixels at 8:26 AM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


As an aside: Does anyone know any good links for finding quality stuff on Netflix, Amazon or other streaming services? Other than Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic, etc?

I've found some good, low budget character stuff on these services. But the way content is presented there, and searchable there, it's nearly impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff. A really interesting film is presented the same way as a turn-key, crummy, exploitive slasher flick. Often side by side. Almost everything is "An Amazon/Netflix Original" now.

I've come to terms with the fact that it just takes work to find anything "good" outside of huge mainstream blockbusters these days. I'm willing to do the work, but it ain't easy to get reliable results.

(I still enjoy mainstream, big budget blockbusters from time to time. But the comic book stuff doesn't do it for me. And I was the stereotypical 1980s D&D playing, Michael Moorcock-reading nerd way back when. I didn't even like comic books then, so we shouldn't all be lumped together!)
posted by SoberHighland at 8:27 AM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


Music is a really interesting comparison, because in both cases the commercial distribution channels have narrowed through mergers/acquisitions over the past few decades while the tools for creating it and distributing it for free have grown.
posted by sallybrown at 8:28 AM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


To the best of my memory -- and admittedly I'm not taxing it too hard -- this has never happened in a Scorsese movie

Casino


That guy was technically alive when they buried him.
posted by Reyturner at 8:32 AM on November 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


90% glorification, 10% condemnation.

That's really true. You can see it in The Departed, where DiCaprio is beating up folks in bars early on. Listen to how the rockin' rock music swells (god, Scorcese's heavy-handed slathering on of music is a post in itself) as the macho violence intensifies. The effect most definitely includes glorification, but Scorcese apologists refuse to see it.
posted by mediareport at 8:33 AM on November 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


The effect most definitely includes glorification, but Scorcese apologists refuse to see it.

Or maybe Scorsese apologists simply see it differently.
posted by Mothlight at 8:34 AM on November 5, 2019


Scorsese could be a hypocrite and still be correct.
posted by argybarg at 8:35 AM on November 5, 2019 [12 favorites]


As an aside: Does anyone know any good links for finding quality stuff on Netflix, Amazon or other streaming services? Other than Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic, etc?

Honestly? Find a critic/film podcast or two who you agree with and listen to them. I bookmark stuff that sounds interesting on fanfare. General word of mouth. There's just so much to watch that I'll never get through it all, so I've given up on worrying about FOMO.

Part of my enjoyment of media is definitely the social aspect of it - I love talking about what other people got out of the same experience. So I do prioritize the stuff other people I know are watching, which isn't always the most interesting.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:38 AM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm absolutely convinced it's a symptom and only slightly less of one and for much the same reason as the current AAA video game market outside Nintendo basically consisting of sports franchises, open world action-adventure RPGs (with swords or guns and normally with Ubisoft Towers), and multiplayer shooters). When budgets grow you can take fewer risks

The budgets of those things is now so insane, there's no margin for error, if too many of these projects fail they can take the company producing them down with them.

And that's really it, and it shouldn't surprise anybody, if an entertainment product is going to cost 400 million USD to produce.... you can be sure it's gonna be validated against the greatest audience possible to make sure it can bring back the money it cost. That doesn't preclude it from having little touches of "art" in it, but it'll be spectacle & entertainment primarily, because that's the thing they know they can sell.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 8:39 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


If you don't mind an actual book, I like the Scarecrow Video Guide, which has good context (groupings by genre, director, etc.). I've found some interesting material there.
posted by argybarg at 8:41 AM on November 5, 2019


dirty_moore: Yeah, that's what I do. As a 48 year old person, the massive amounts of content available today is seriously off-putting to me. I have stayed away more and more from movies and TV in the last 10 years. Opening Netflix or Amazon makes me feel overwhelmed and exhausted just looking at it. Choice paralysis. In this "golden age" of entertainment, I consume less entertainment than I ever have before in my life.

My anecdote up-thread about Joker playing at the art-house theater in Chicago is an example of what has happened to my wife and I numerous times in the last 10-15 years. We want to go see a movie sometimes! And we have lots of choices around us! A huge city! But so little of it interests me. There are indeed some true art-houses that play good stuff, but often their screens are small, chairs not-great, or in out of the way areas that I don't want to go to just for a fun, spur of the moment outing.
posted by SoberHighland at 8:45 AM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


I don't understand the us vs. them attitude on people who like art house films vs. people who like popular films. Most of the people I know like both to a certain degree.

I like some of the pizzas I can buy frozen in a package, all the ingredients listed, cooking time and temp stipulated. No surprises. The pepperoni + cheese I ate last week is going to taste pretty much exactly the same as the one I'll eat next week. But I'm not going to argue that hard that these pizzas are good for me. Certainly not as good as the ones my friend Bob makes from scratch, fresh ingredients etc ... even if his don't always quite work out flavor wise, because he can't help taking chances, trying new ideas, experimenting.

I'm happy to have both options, but I value Bob's more highly ... by orders of magnitude.
posted by philip-random at 8:46 AM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


SoberHighland, this is more a one-time deal than a reliable way to find films, but I’ve really enjoyed going to see the showings of Oscar-nominated short films that come to bigger theaters during Oscar season.
posted by sallybrown at 8:48 AM on November 5, 2019


Nintendo? Innovative? The company that's been producing games with the same characters yearly since 1982?
posted by SoberHighland at 8:50 AM on November 5, 2019


Nintendo has done more innovation with hardware than software, although I think they extended themselves with Breath of the Wild.
posted by argybarg at 8:53 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


@SeanRMoorhead:
Scorsese has done more than any US filmmaker to get movies by female directors and directors of color produced, restored, and distributed. They are exactly the kinds of movies Disney has driven to the brink of extinction and the white kids calling him an old white man don't care.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:56 AM on November 5, 2019 [23 favorites]


The argument isn't really about "good" vs "bad" movies/art, its more about modes of engagement, how one invests in different expectations regarding expression and reception and art as corporate product. To simplify things a bit, most audience members, judging from everything I read or hear from people talking about movies tend to think about movies/art in terms of immediacy, transparency, clarity, familiarity and a sense of being comprehensive or closed.

They expect that a movie should provide immediate and familiar pleasures that match their sense of what they are wishing to see, that the movie be readily understood by all without too much effort, that it provide expected emotional pleasures or "beats" that make it emotionally understandable in a desired fashion and that the movie provide a clear sense of what it "means" or shows that closes off the experience as its own thing. They want movies to match their desire, to be responsive to their wished for experience, in a sense, and think of movies/art in terms of how well it fits those wants.

Scorsese is talking about movies/art more as expression, where ambiguity, unfamiliarity, singularity of vision, openness, and a sense of challenge or feeling of lasting indeterminacy of feeling are favored, with emphasis more on the manner and strength of expression rather than the sense of expectations fulfilled.

Scorsese's perspective on movies/art comes from a belief that investing oneself in the works and attempting to give one's self over to them is important for how it challenges the individual and the reward of seeing the world mediated by the work of another. Expecting that view to be held by all is ridiculous as it requires effort and learning, and maybe some innate sensibility, that not everyone will share or have an interest in, any more than expecting everyone to learn differential calculus, have skill in engine repair, or enjoy running marathons would be a reasonable expectation. At the same time though, denying that there is anything more to movies/art than can be readily perceived by any or all with minimal effort is equally foolish for assuming art is all surface effect.

(An additional area of difficulty that influences all of this is in our moral perceptions, where some audience members express a strong desire for movies/art to represent the world as they want to see it, others assess morality by how the movie "reads" in its overall framing, while others are more open to amorality of experience as long as the strength of artistic expression is apparent, separating, in a sense, the internal world of feeling from the external lived world. But mostly there is inconsistency around all of it from almost everyone as morality if too closely joined with perception to be easily disentangled.)

As I say though, this is a simplification and most of us experience movies/art in ways that don't fit such a stark either/or preposition and much of the most meaningful experiences are probably closer in how they effect us than might be assumed from the differences in what it is causing the effect, at least that's my theory. Scorsese is disturbed by the changes in an art medium he loves and by how readily those changes are being embraced. That seems a reasonable concern from his history of investment in the form, and I share a good portion of it, but don't think there's much reason to think that feeling should also therefore be shared by all since people watch movies for such different ends.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:59 AM on November 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


To the question of why Scorsese places importance on viewing a film in the theater, I had a teacher who argued that experiencing the film alongside a bunch of strangers was an important part of the moviegoing experience—feeling the emotion evoked by the film in the company of other people living different lives who are going through the same thing as you.

Not that there aren’t big issues with that way of thinking—cost and accessibility among them—but that may be where he’s coming from.
posted by sallybrown at 9:03 AM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


dirty_moore: Yeah, that's what I do. As a 48 year old person, the massive amounts of content available today is seriously off-putting to me. I have stayed away more and more from movies and TV in the last 10 years. Opening Netflix or Amazon makes me feel overwhelmed and exhausted just looking at it. Choice paralysis. In this "golden age" of entertainment, I consume less entertainment than I ever have before in my life.

Maybe it would be helpful to think of it more like music to help with the choice paralysis? Like, there are a few bands that I want to see live - definitely want to see live - so I pay attention when they're coming to town and when and make an appointment to see them. Then I find new music through word of mouth or podcasts, and maybe it's something I'd want to listen to but not have an appointment for it, in which case I have a mental list of what's expected to come out and when, and when I'm in the mood for something new, I consult it. It helps to be purposeful about what you want to see.

I haven't decided I wanted to go see a movie without knowing which specific movie I wanted to see since I was a teen, so this might also be a generational thing about what it's like to go out and see a movie. (And even then I was well aware of the fact that I might be dragged into seeing the remake of Rollerball just because one of my friends had a crush of Freddie Prinze Junior, not that I'm still angry about it or anything. Just, if we're having a conversation about the nadir of movie going experiences. . . )

Scorsese has done more than any US filmmaker to get movies by female directors and directors of color produced, restored, and distributed. They are exactly the kinds of movies Disney has driven to the brink of extinction and the white kids calling him an old white man don't care.

Are . . . women and directors of color not filmmakers?
posted by dinty_moore at 9:03 AM on November 5, 2019


dinty_moore: I don't understand what gotcha you think you just got.
posted by argybarg at 9:08 AM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


No matter how much you like Captain Marvel or Black Panther, those movies are made by committee.

All movies are made by committee. Part of the reason, I think, that Mefi is flailing so much over this essay is that it elides together a lot of different things in a way that doesn't leave clear how he thinks they are all related to each other, and one of them is his lament for the death of the auteur. But the auteur was always an illusion--to be more direct, a self-serving lie used to prop up particular (usually) white men at the expense of everyone else.

A lot of the other points I'd make have been made above, but I'd just like to point out that while Captain Marvel and Black Panther in particular may have been fairly formulaic in plot and technically average, they nonetheless told stories that Scorsese's Hollywood chose year after year, decade after decade, not to tell. You can take plenty of risks about the subjectivity of white boys, but don't dare think about trying to imagine a world in which whiteness is simply sidelined and dismissed as irrelevant. I grew up in an overwhelmingly black, overwhelmingly poor city, and I'm not going to pretend I didn't tear up a little at the end of Black Panther, imagining what a difference it would have made for people, for that ship to land in my neighborhood. And yes, I was touched by Carol's "I get knocked down, I stand the fuck back up again" sequence in Captain Marvel.

(Before anyone loses their mind, among the films I've seen recently are Monsieur Klein and Le Cercle Rouge, both of which I'm sure would be deemed "cinema" by Scorsese. But I've also seen Hustlers and the latest Terminator film. One blessing of an expensive education is that it gives you enough confidence in your taste that you don't have to cling to middle-brow signaling of "being cultured.")
posted by praemunire at 9:08 AM on November 5, 2019 [11 favorites]


Scorsese has done more than any US filmmaker to get movies by female directors and directors of color produced, restored, and distributed.

He's certainly done a lot for film preservation and has a nice list of producer credits on small-mid films directed by women. He deserves major props for that. But "more than any US filmmaker?" Really? Is he doing more than Ava Duvernay, say? I dunno, that statement above sounds a bit like many of the other grandiose assertions casually thrown around about Scorcese. He's neat, he's done some wonderful things, but I'm not sure things like the "more than any US filmmaker" stuff are always carefully thought out.
posted by mediareport at 9:11 AM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


dinty_moore: I don't understand what gotcha you think you just got.

I think it's pretty emblematic of the problem of diversity in the current moviegoing experience that the person we hold as the most responsible for the work of female directors and directors of color on screen is an old white man, and not the actual directors. Scorcese may be helping by lending his names to the production, but he's certainly not doing the most work on furthering the work of female directors or the work of directors of color - nor is he able to do the most work in that sense.

It's not a gotcha, it's respect for the female directors or directors of color as anything other than props.
posted by dinty_moore at 9:13 AM on November 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


The distinction between cinematic/not-cinematic, literary/genre, art/non-art etc, is pedantic, elitist, tired and pointless.
Scorsese likes these movies over here and doesn't like those movies over there. Fine. But trying to exclude a whole group of things from even being considered is just a form of gatekeeping, with its usual suite of -isms.
posted by signal at 9:14 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


If you’re gatekeeping against The Walt Disney Company in defense of smaller, less-well-funded film, do you implicate the same isms as other forms of gatekeeping? Going by Scorsese’s actual argument, he would have no problem with a low-budget or indie comic book movie that was not audience-tested out the wazoo and tied to a large international merchandising campaign. He’s not bashing genre films or superhero films, he’s bashing a current system run by a large conglomerate that’s using a widely-appealing genre of movies to dominate the global box office. His issue is not with the genre or subject matter, but the way these films are made, sold, and distributed.
posted by sallybrown at 9:23 AM on November 5, 2019 [14 favorites]


His issue is not with the genre or subject matter, but the way these films are made, sold, and distributed.

Unfortunately I think a lot of his wider points about the intersection of movie making and our current system of capitalism are lost in the framing of "are Marvel movies art or not?" Granted, we're at this framing because this is how he answered an interview question, so I don't know how we get out of it.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 9:25 AM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


The distinction between cinematic/not-cinematic, literary/genre, art/non-art etc, is pedantic, elitist, tired and pointless a matter of opinion.

People have opinions and tastes, and that's totally OK, and we can agree or not agree with those opinions and tastes, and clearly Scorsese's opinion is not stopping MCU films from getting made or enjoyed.

The world is a better, richer place with various, even opposing viewpoints on what art is or is not, what movies are good or bad, what music is or is not worth listening to, and in this case which films fit into Scorsese's definition of "cinema" and which do not.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:26 AM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


Re: Scorcese's wallowing in violence:

Or maybe Scorsese apologists simply see it differently.

*Shrug* All I can do is give you one example. Here's the cranberry juice/"are you on your period?" scene from The Departed. It's got the Allman Brothers as background music, but notice the completely hilarious way Scorcese jacks the music up once DiCaprio smashes the glass over the barfly's head. He does it again at the end of the scene when someone else punches the guy.

It's a hoot. Once you start noticing decisions like that in Scorcese's work - i.e., ham-handed pandering during scenes of violence - you see they're ridiculously common. They suffuse almost all of his work. It's a major flaw in his filmography.
posted by mediareport at 9:28 AM on November 5, 2019


the person we hold as the most responsible for the work of female directors and directors of color on screen

Who was holding up Scorsese as the most responsible? I think he was just getting some credit.
posted by argybarg at 9:35 AM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


All movies are made by committee.

Almost all movies are collaborative, but that isn't the same as saying they are all made by committee. It's a question of power and control over the finished work. Some directors, yes, mostly men (though not always white there is a big world of movies after all), have had control over their works, or were allowed it in the studio days, and others work under tight control of producers, studios, and sometimes cast members, where their freedom is to create is strongly curtailed. That's the Disney model and it is a very different thing than the freedoms someone like Scorsese enjoyed on most of his films. It's something that it would be great to see more artists wield that weren't just the usual suspects.

And I say all that as someone who never much cared for the auteur theory stuff for a number of reasons including the failure to differentiate power from ability and the importance of collaboration.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:37 AM on November 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


Scorsese likes these movies over here and doesn't like those movies over there. Fine. But trying to exclude a whole group of things from even being considered is just a form of gatekeeping, with its usual suite of -isms.

I'm glad to see people finally bold enough to stand up for The Disney Corporation of America.
posted by codacorolla at 9:37 AM on November 5, 2019 [21 favorites]


It's hard to see past the news but right now, today, we are in the middle of one of the greatest artistic periods of human history.

quantity ≠ quality
posted by Thorzdad at 9:45 AM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


Are David Lynch's movies made by committee? Ozu's? Bergman, Altman, Fellini? Yes, there were crews on all of them, but can anyone really say that Fanny and Alexander or Tokyo Story don't have a unique and personal style imparted on them?

The distinction is between bland corporate product and movies that strive for something with some nerve and caring to them.

Why the hell are so many MeFites rallying for the bland corporate product in this? What is going on here?
posted by argybarg at 9:46 AM on November 5, 2019 [15 favorites]


Why the hell are so many MeFites rallying for the bland corporate product in this?

I'm not as certain that Mefites are "rallying for the bland corporate product" so much as they are arguing that the definition of "bland corporate product" is not a universal one.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:51 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


I like to compare the 1981 Medusa scene from Clash of the Titans to the one from 2010.

The production quality in both is objectively shit, though you'd hope that after 30 years of innovation, the later film would have represented an improvement. Unfortunately they devoted their newfound capability to insulting the viewer's intelligence. Rather than taking the opportunity to heighten the sophistication of the characters and the suspense of their predicament, they turned it into a Dukes of Hazzard car chase. In any case, in a few years, they'll probably make another one, right?

Scorsese is entitled to his opinions, but what's really disappointing to me is just how happy people are to be underestimated* by the movie industry, how strongly they identify with shallow characters and simplistic narratives. It's just a species of brand identification -- the movie industry loooooves it. They'll keep making this shit as long as people keep buying it, as they have done since the beginning of cinema.

*There are still a fair number of dudes in my neighbourhood who've replaced the logos on their trucks with Transformers badges so maybe "underestimated" is the wrong word.
posted by klanawa at 9:52 AM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


> Why the hell are so many MeFites rallying for the bland corporate product in this? What is going on here?

Fandom as an identity rather than an activity.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:52 AM on November 5, 2019 [29 favorites]


Fandom as an identity rather than an activity.

Jinx. ;)
posted by klanawa at 9:53 AM on November 5, 2019


So if a definition is not "universal" it is not real? That's nonsense. We're not talking about mathematical proofs here.

This feels like that frustrating first year of college, when people discover that you can find exceptions and loopholes to any argument. Yes, you can! Now get on with the work of analysis anyway, because fixating on exceptions is just sophistry.

The Marvel movies are well-made product. If they were trash they'd be more interesting.
posted by argybarg at 9:55 AM on November 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


In my case, I'm not "defending" anything. I'm attacking the relevance of the cinema/not cinema false dichotomy.
posted by signal at 9:55 AM on November 5, 2019


It's got the Allman Brothers as background music, but notice the completely hilarious way Scorcese jacks the music up once DiCaprio smashes the glass over the barfly's head. He does it again at the end of the scene when someone else punches the guy. It's a hoot.

OK, but I would never call it "a hoot." I think it's actually tense and even a little bit scary. Certainly I find everyone on screen in that scene dislikable — get me the fuck out of there. Is Scorsese repeating himself? Yeah. The Departed is impersonal, and it's far from his best work. But that's a vivid scene. Are you literally saying that people find it funny or just that it's supposed to give them a little thrill? It makes me wince.

Once you start noticing decisions like that in Scorcese's work - i.e., ham-handed pandering during scenes of violence - you see they're ridiculously common. They suffuse almost all of his work. It's a major flaw in his filmography.

I strongly suspect that you and I would disagree on whether or not any given depiction of violence in a Scorsese movie is "ham-handed" or not, because I think he's pretty damned precise in his work. (I would offer nearly equal credit to Thelma Schoonmaker, his phenomenal film editor for many, many years, who once said of Scorsese's films, "they're not violent until I've edited them.") But have you seen Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, The King of Comedy, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Age of Innocence, Kundun and/or Silence?
posted by Mothlight at 9:56 AM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


Does anyone know any good links for finding quality stuff on Netflix, Amazon or other streaming services?

Once every couple of months I scroll through the AV Club's movie reviews, though I wish they offered an easy option to skip back a few months or years. Their writers' year-end lists are also good for finding things I missed. The reason I like to go back a few years, e.g. this 2017 best horror film list at Film School Rejects, or this Best Films of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival list at RogerEbert.com, is to find movies I'd forgotten about or never heard of that now have a better chance of being on one of the streaming platforms. There are tons of great sites, genre and otherwise, that have year's best lists filled with great recommendations, like Bloody Disgusting's 10 Best Foreign Horror Films of 2017.
posted by mediareport at 9:58 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'm attacking the relevance of the cinema/not cinema false dichotomy.

Well, congratulations. You have the vast majority of American moviegoers on your side. You have the vast machinery and money of Hollywood on your side. Sticking up for serious cinema, and art in general, is not an elitist approach; it's a tiny and dwindling minority view. So I wouldn't worry if I were you.
posted by argybarg at 9:58 AM on November 5, 2019 [10 favorites]


So if a definition is not "universal" it is not real? That's nonsense.

So, you're claiming that there has been an agreed-upon definition for "what is and what is not art", then? Are you certain?

The Marvel movies are well-made product.

In your opinion the Marvel movies are well-made product. In other's opinion they are indeed "art".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:58 AM on November 5, 2019


No, there is not an agreed-upon definition for what is and what is not art. Therefore ... what?
posted by argybarg at 10:00 AM on November 5, 2019


You mean every 20-minute CGI fight scene where the "primary" superheros destroy their enemies but do not face any consequential damage or injury to themselves lacks revelation, mystery and emotional danger? Huh, I never considered that every time I watched a bunch of CGI fist-fighting, like, every time.
posted by Chuffy at 10:00 AM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


I like to compare the 1981 Medusa scene from Clash of the Titans to the one from 2010.

Ease your storm, bro.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:00 AM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


No, there is not an agreed-upon definition for what is and what is not art. Therefore ... what?

Therefore...why is Scorcese trying to claim there is?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:01 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


There is also no agreed-upon definition of what makes for a valid and insightful political argument. There is no agreed-upon definition of what makes a political system just. There is no agreed-upon definition of what makes a good life. All of these issues have been in contention since forever and always will be.

Does that mean we just lapse into "well, it's all just down to individual opinions, there's nothing we can say?"
posted by argybarg at 10:04 AM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


My sister, a woman in her thirties , is a huge Disney fan. She sees all the movies. She visits Disneyworld with her husband (they got engaged there). She has a bunch of merch. She interacts with the culture. It's an important part of her life.

I don't love Disney the monolith. It's a giant multi-bajllion dollar corporate entity.As a human being living in the world that wants to stay savvy and engage with the culture and media, I interact with Disney, but I try(at least) to do so on a piece by piece basis. Some of their product is pretty great. Some is pretty abysmal. I can't always get away from the fact that it all feels like product, but some of that is my problem, an antiquated attitude leftover from being a young person in the 90s who spent years worrying needlessly about authenticity and selling out and all of that bullshit (because it was 99% bullshit).

What gets my sister though--adn we've had fights about this--is I that I won't agree with her" Don't you just love Disney" sentiment. Because I don't. Not all the time. Not even most of the time. But as a fan, and notably of something hugely popular, she can't accept even a "sometimes." For her, it's all or nothing. My not loving a thing that she loves and so many other people love is just me being a contrarian, an asshole, a snob, and you're probably just faking it anyway, I mean, you've seen "The Little Mermaid" and you didn't seem to hate it. It's a lose/lose because I either end up lying or she takes anything I say as some kind of personal attack, no matter, how many millions of other people in the world love it.

There are a lot of my sisters out there in 2019 .

I've spent most of my life liking shit that almost no one else likes and having people tell me that to my face. I don't think I'm better for it. Or more special for it. Most of the time, I'm lonelier and more broke for it, but heart wants what it wants and I don't know how to do anything else. Does it make one bit of difference that I don't think "Captain America: Civil War," while highly entertaining, is exactly art? ("The Winter Soldier?" Maybe) No. It's certainly not going to have any bearing over whether it gets seventeen sequels and a streaming spin-off or five, written precisely to satisfy the needs of its millions of global fans. And if we're all allowed to like what we like, we're also allowed to not like what we don't like. You can't be everything to everybody all the time. Especially if you're interested in making anything you might define as "art." Isn't that one of the hardest things about being a human being ? Realizing you can't make people love you and you certainly can't make them love the things you love. Even, especially, the stuff you love the most.

And again, the notion that there is some mustache-twirling cadre of snooty literary/art elite still serving as gatekeepers in any meaningful way in 2019 is mind-blowing. The horse has not only long -since left the barn (it it was ever truly there in the first place); the whole farm was sold and turned into a theme park thirty years ago.
posted by thivaia at 10:06 AM on November 5, 2019 [37 favorites]


I think what some commenters are trying to say is that if we agree that the author is at least sometimes dead, it should therefore be possible to generate art completely by accident--and that therefore, Disney as the Global Arbiters Of Mass Appeal is not uniquely incapable of creating art.

But I don't think "art v not art" is even a meaningful conversation for different reasons. It does and should have intense personal meaning to the creators and creatives, but from the ecosystem level, even bland hogwash is going to say something about the soulless committee that made it. Let's not pretend that "cinema" is made acceptable by any upstanding morality on the part of the director or actors. Some fairly objectionable people have made some fairly compelling cinema, and vice versa. Some art occurs in spite of the creator. Some art tells us how creatively bankrupt we are or are not when Disney owns All The Franchises. And whether or not I think that's okay, that's certainly the state of the art when film is an investment vehicle.
posted by Phyltre at 10:08 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


The art debate is what capitalism
wants because the more people spend their attention on that, the more secure its ideological power becomes by insulating the mode of production of movies as well as ideas about movies from basic critique. The further neoliberalism progresses the more this distortion of values (who is a snob, who is elite, who is antiïntellectual) we will be seeing resulting in erosion of not just all aspects of culture but metaculture itself
posted by polymodus at 10:09 AM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


But have you seen Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, The King of Comedy, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Age of Innocence, Kundun and/or Silence?

I recommended Age of Innocence in an earlier comment, and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore remains by far my favorite Scorcese film. (Btw, if you haven't listened to Ellen Burstyn's commentary track, you're in for a treat; her description of how she chose Scorcese to direct the film is wonderful.)

I get why "But you haven't watched his nonviolent films!" is a common response from Scorcese megafans to the critique of the way he routinely prioritizes and obsesses over violence in the majority of his movies, but it doesn't apply here. Like I said, I've been on a Scorcese binge this year, including his 4-hour tour of Italian cinema, the George Harrison doc and his horribly awful musical New York, New York. Silence is the only movie you mention I haven't seen yet.
posted by mediareport at 10:12 AM on November 5, 2019


I like to compare the 1981 Medusa scene from Clash of the Titans to the one from 2010

Good example "just because you can doesn't mean you should". CotT 2010 is so bad, how hard was it to take the original pimp it a little bit with better effects and bit of a more modern take on editing (but not that ridiculous scene) and stop there.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 10:12 AM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


Let's not pretend that "cinema" is made acceptable by any upstanding morality on the part of the director or actors.

Did anyone say that? I don't think anyone said that.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:14 AM on November 5, 2019


grumpybear69, why else would who or what Disney is have any bearing on whether the MCU can be art? A lot of people are saying "lol people are defending Disney here." Which means it's Disney's character on trial in some way, yes? Otherwise why accuse anyone of defending Disney or not?
posted by Phyltre at 10:15 AM on November 5, 2019


There is also no agreed-upon definition of what makes for a valid and insightful political argument. There is no agreed-upon definition of what makes a political system just. There is no agreed-upon definition of what makes a good life. All of these issues have been in contention since forever and always will be.

Does that mean we just lapse into "well, it's all just down to individual opinions, there's nothing we can say?"


If someone is claiming that they have found the One True Way Of Things? Yes.

But this isn't what you were pushing back against. You were claiming that MeFites were "defending corporate product". I notice that you haven't responded to my own claim that what you are calling "corporate product", someone else is calling "Art", and you also haven't responded to my clarification that Mefites are not "defending corporate product" so much as they are debating that "Scorcese doesn't have the right to set himself up as the arbiter of opinion". I can only assume that the reason you haven't responded to the "corporate product vs art" point is because....well, it's all just down to individual opinion and there is nothing you can say.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:16 AM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


why else would who or what Disney is have any bearing on whether the MCU can be art?

Because of the corporate resources and market power that enable them to soak the market with these films (which is an important part of Scorsese’s argument).
posted by sallybrown at 10:17 AM on November 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


I think it's perfectly valid to point at the people who make serious and engaging works in any artform, the ones who shake us up and challenge our perceptions, and say: We should celebrate that.

I even — and oh dear Lord, here comes "snobbery" — think that making a great film that sticks with you and resonates and changes your view of the world and haunts you a bit is a greater accomplishment than making something that keeps you pleasantly entertained while watching it.

I'm grateful to the people who made Fanny and Alexander and The Spirit of the Beehive and Mulholland Drive and Stalker, because they took a fucking risk. They wanted to contact something primal and meaningful and maybe spiritual in human experience, and they opened doors in my own life. They count more in my life than 200 entertaining movies put together.

I think we need to encourage movies that have that courage, and art of all kinds that has that courage. But if we're stuck in freshman-grade philosophical skepticism and everything is the same, then all we get is confusion, and corporate spackle to fill the gap.
posted by argybarg at 10:18 AM on November 5, 2019 [18 favorites]


it's all just down to individual opinion and there is nothing you can say.

I take this as your stance, which means you're right, there's little we can gain by discussing this.
posted by argybarg at 10:19 AM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


I think it's perfectly valid to point at the people who make serious and engaging works in any artform, the ones who shake us up and challenge our perceptions, and say: We should celebrate that.

I agree with you.

I even — and oh dear Lord, here comes "snobbery" — think that making a great film that sticks with you and resonates and changes your view of the world and haunts you a bit is a greater accomplishment than making something that keeps you pleasantly entertained while watching it.

I agree with you here too.

However - I would like to point out to you that your list of "serious and engaging works in any art form" and "great films that stuck with me and resonated and changed my view of the world" almost guaranteed does not match my list. And I wager that you would not object to that either.

A question - do you accept that it is at least plausible that for someone out there in the world, that one of the movies on the "this movie stuck with me and resonated and changed my view of the world" list might indeed be something like Black Panther?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:21 AM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


It's odd how some commenters here have (willfully or not) misconstrued my position as a defense of Disney or Marvel or and attack on 'serious' art. My point is that saying 'this is Cinema, this is not' is pointless, regardless of what specific corpus we're analyzing, because it is always a way of gatekeeping, of excluding entire swathes of art, and the people who make and consume them, from even being able to start a conversation on their merit.
It's not saying 'I don't like this', or even 'I think this is objectively bad', it's saying 'this thing you like is not even in the same category as this other thing I like therefore there is nothing to be said about it'. It's a form of elitism, regardless of the merit or moral virtue of the thing being excluded.
The same sort of arguments have been raised against Blues, against Jazz, against Rock and Roll, against the Novel, against Hip Hop, against Science Fiction, against Comics, against Video Games, against Punk, and, most tellingly, against Cinema itself.
History has time and time again invalidated this kind of dichotomy. It's tiring and tired, intellectually bankrupt and just plain lazy.
posted by signal at 10:22 AM on November 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


Who was holding up Scorsese as the most responsible? I think he was just getting some credit.

The person who I was responding to? Upthread:

@SeanRMoorhead:
Scorsese has done more than any US filmmaker to get movies by female directors and directors of color produced, restored, and distributed.


Lynch's movies were most definitely made by committee - every movie has more than one person's input in it. We should really talk more about the amount of work and the confluence of visions that happen to make a great product - between set, between the actor's input, the editing, the cinematography. Sometimes there's obvious tension between the director and the actors, or the actor and the editing, and that makes an even more interesting product.

I do think that if, say, Boots Riley was up there talking about how much he doesn't like Marvel movies, nobody would really care. Because as much as Disney is a monolith and represents a great amount of cultural capital, Scorsese is also a staid cultural powerhouse and that even his blandest movies get to be considered more culturally valuable than something like Black Panther. I don't really want to come to the defense of Marvel films - other than saying that maybe we should take them at their individual merit - Disney controlling everything is a really upsetting consideration. But Scorsese also doesn't get to define what works for everyone, and what's really bothering about the entire exercise is him stating his opinion as an objective truth.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:23 AM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


I think Marty did his argument a disservice by using "superhero" as an abbreviation for "big-budget crowd-pleaser".

But then again, a few years ago everybody used "Michael Bay/Transformers" as an abbreviation the same way (and you may not love the Marvel movies but if you don't think they have more artistic merit than those do, you and I might not be able to be friends). A few years before that there would've been some other pop-culture abbreviation for big-budget crowd-pleaser (Independence Day? Jurassic Park?). Back before it was "boring CGI fight with no stakes" it was "boring drawn-out gunfight with no stakes" or "boring drawn-out car-chase with no stakes". So if Scorsese hadn't said "superheroes" it would've been harder to sell this as a narrative about things getting worse, rather than a story about the continuing, eternal tension between capitalism and art, which would get a big shrug and a "What else is new?" from most people.

Really the only "new" things here are Disney's market dominance and the resultant negative effects on movie distribution, and the emergence of other platforms for distributing movies besides movie theaters (e.g. Netflix), both of which Metafilter has discussed at length previously. Sadly, I don't think Marty is ready to go full-on trust-buster and propose breaking up Disney, and I'm very certain he's not ready to go full-on anti-capitalism (speaking of things which are 90% glorification, 10% condemnation, I give you The Wolf of Wall Street), so I'm afraid he's going to be stuck just angrily, but futilely, ranting at the clouds.

Superheroes themselves are a red-herring in his arguments but I'm still surprised to see how many people on MetaFilter remain blithely dismissive of them. Superhero stories have been with us forever. Hercules, Beowulf, heck, The Epic of Gilgamesh is about a guy who is one-third god (don't ask me to explain that family tree) and his buddy Enkidu. Yep, literally the oldest written story we have is about a superhero and his trusty sidekick. I don't think that's because humans have always had some fascist streak and I would challenge the idea that all these modern superhero narratives are fascist - rather, they are all fantasies about individual empowerment - imagining what it would be like if one person, acting alone, could change the world in ways that are impossible, or at least impossible for an ordinary individual. ("Undemocratic" is not the same thing as "fascist" unless you've broadened fascism so far as to render it meaningless.) Thus their enduring appeal with children, who always feel powerless; and popularity with nerds, who often feel both powerless and alone; and with basically everyone else these days, given that the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket and as individuals we can't do much but stand by and watch as our institutions and democratic safeguards crumble and fail us. I fear that, in much the same way that the US's post-WW2 economy is starting to look like an odd blip in an otherwise unbroken timeline of vast inequality, the stretch of optimism (tied to that same time period) where we genuinely believed people could do anything they set their minds to, which relegated suphero stories to being "for kids and fanboys", may also prove to be the historical anomaly.
posted by mstokes650 at 10:26 AM on November 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


do you accept that it is at least plausible that for someone out there in the world, that one of the movies on the "this movie stuck with me and resonated and changed my view of the world" list might indeed be something like Black Panther?

Sure. But to generalize from that to saying that a movie scene almost entirely dominated by Marvel movies is doing just fine … I can't get with that.

I also think the person who thinks Black Panther represents the best the artform can offer should get their mind blown by even greater stuff. I can't say with mathematical certainty what that greater stuff is, but I just think the artform is capable of more than that.
posted by argybarg at 10:27 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


why else would who or what Disney is have any bearing on whether the MCU can be art?

Because of the corporate resources and market power that enable them to soak the market with these films (which is an important part of Scorsese’s argument).


And (as I left out but the piece described better than I can), their decisionmaking around these films is to balance huge budgets by widening the audience as much as possible, meaning they audience test and shape the product like any other mass-market widget—it has to match its well-selling predecessors in certain ways and not piss off potential buyers. So you have a set of movies created and shaped to meet a set of corporate needs that Scorsese argues make them Not Art, which are then launched globally using the power of the Disney Co, using the means of a fairly monopolized theater distribution chain. (I actually find this part of Scorsese’s argument more interesting because it’s less about individual taste: is it true that the Marvel films have harmed the prospects of indie cinema, or, as someone else said upthread, are they just a symptom?)
posted by sallybrown at 10:27 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]



grumpybear69, why else would who or what Disney is have any bearing on whether the MCU can be art? A lot of people are saying "lol people are defending Disney here." Which means it's Disney's character on trial in some way, yes? Otherwise why accuse anyone of defending Disney or not?


So:

1. Disney is not a person and does not have "character", Citizens United notwithstanding.
2. People are defending Disney's IP, the integrity of which is apparently under existential threat from Scorsese in particular and the concept of merely judging art in general. It says more about the people doing the defending - specifically their lack of confidence in their own taste, vulnerable apparently to the opposing tastes of others - than it does about Disney.

It is never not a waste of time and energy to defend what you like against critics.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:29 AM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


I think criticism of "superheroes" is even too broad. Into the Spider-Verse was a Sony picture. Nolan's trilogy and Joker were Warner. There's a sort of bland standardization to the MCU, even as they've experimented with different demographics of leads, different genres, and different settings. There's an uncanny valley in Disney perfection and ultra-production values that's existed in the company since forever.

DC movies, for all of their failures, at least look distinct when they fail. And Sony movies, while you get interchangeable X-Men films and superfluous Spider-Man reboots and not a single working Fantastic Four, occasionally produce a Spider-Verse or a Logan, films that are excellent in ways far more distinctive than Disney-Marvel ones.

Sure. But to generalize from that to saying that a movie scene almost entirely dominated by Marvel movies is doing just fine … I can't get with that.

To be fair, Disney owns Star Wars and Pixar as well.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:32 AM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


Oh, these movies are art alright, but mostly fascist art. They exist in a universe where moral absolutes exist and barely human ubermensch are judge, jury and executioner. Not for nothing, most of these movies end up with the villain being executed by the heroes. They are, with a couple of exceptions, masturbatory dreamworlds for the right.

After listening to a podcast on Watchmen, I found myself compelled to go back and reread it, and holy shit: reading it in 2019, amidst not only our political landscape but our media one as well, it is revelatory. And a huge part of that is how, well, aware it is that superheros are intrinsically inseparable from fascism. Even the likable retired one is a cop who flat-out admits he wanted even less of a grey area between Good and Bad. The one who's permitted by the government to remain a superhero is repeatedly and correctly likened to Nazis. The damaged man who's lost in his superhero fantasy as he hurls epithets at sex workers is, well, pretty damn relatable. And the guy who's the supervillain gets his start when the Nazi one calls out the whole lot of them for thinking that their petty obsession with small crimes committed by impoverished citizens absolutely ignores the real horrors of modern society, namely the imperial powers who lead our world into wars and famines.

("Nazi who's right about the world" is about the most fantastic concept in the graphic novel—though the point of his character is that his response to the horrors of the world is to embrace them to the point of parody, not that Nazis are ever right about anything. And that's still probably the one concept of the book that doesn't quite work for me.)

It feels absolutely unsurprising that, as the military-industrial complex grows more powerful than ever, Marvel's also at the zenith of its popularity. They feed into each other—and some of Marvel's "woker" films sure do seem to advocate how great militaries and the CIA are, don't they?

Anyway, Scorsese is great—not just because he's brilliant, but because he loves what he loves with an aching sincerity. I get infuriated reading the comments with this one, but I'm glad that he's saying what he's saying.
posted by rorgy at 10:35 AM on November 5, 2019 [20 favorites]


> do you accept that it is at least plausible that for someone out there in the world, that one of the movies on the "this movie stuck with me and resonated and changed my view of the world" list might indeed be something like Black Panther?

Sure. But to generalize from that to saying that a movie scene almost entirely dominated by Marvel movies is doing just fine … I can't get with that.


I am not certain how you are getting the impression that anyone is saying that. Rather, I think the bulk of the arguments are that "creating gate-keeping categories like this isn't fair" and "the real problem isn't 'what is and isn't art', the real problem is that movie distributors aren't doing a good job at making these other movies accessible to viewers; but that is the movie distributors' fault, not the filmmakers'."

I also think the person who thinks Black Panther represents the best the artform can offer should get their mind blown by even greater stuff. I can't say with mathematical certainty what that greater stuff is, but I just think the artform is capable of more than that.

What is it about Black Panther that to you reads as "not great", though? We have a person here for whom it has totally changed their world view, that was one of the things that you thought film should strive to achieve. Well, Black Panther did it for this person. So why do you feel that it is still lesser-than in this instance?

If it's just a matter of you personally not getting your own dress get blown up by it, that's fine! You don't have to love it yourself. Just accept that this other person holds it in as equally high regard as you hold Fanny and Alexander. And the fact that you were just meh on it doesn't make it a lesser film, just that it wasn't groundbreaking for you personally. Which is fine! But that also means that the fact that another person did find it groundbreaking and life-view-altering is also fine.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:37 AM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


I'd be fine with Marvel movies if it were also possible to make mid-budget movies for adults. But it isn't. And television is cool and all, but it's not a substitute for a great film, it's its own thing. Scorcese's criticism is coming from a place of concern regarding the thing he's devoted his life to. I don't think he's wrong to be worried.
posted by Automocar at 10:39 AM on November 5, 2019 [14 favorites]


If someone felt like their life was changed by Dan Brown novels … well, first of all, I'm not an asshole in life, so I'd just smile and say "oh, cool." But I'd probably think: There's greater stuff out there.

And you know what? My wife loves big formulaic fantasy books. She reads one after the other. She has no interest in literature. I don't look down on her for that. She works an emotionally draining job and needs her formula; she'd tell you that.

But if you're going to say that there's no distinction to be drawn between formulaic fantasy books and great writing, I think you're wrong. If you say that you and I won't agree on what the greatest books are, and especially that we're not going to agree on one individual Greatest Book, you're right. But if you're taking the skeptical stance that all writing is of equal value, and that it's all just opinion, then I don't agree.

The fact that this argument is super-charged by the overwhelming financial victory of Marvel/Disney adds a really odd dynamic to the argument, too. I mean, you're taking up arms in favor of the overdog. The cultural battle has been won a million times over; arthouse films have been ground nearly into dust. What are we even defending? Who is worth attacking here?

I know that's emotional rather than reasonable. Maybe crying at Spiderman's "death" when we all know he's back in the next movie means Infinity War is on equal footing with the Oresteia or Beloved. It's all just consumer choice, and aesthetic judgements are for snobs. And maybe we can all have a good old totemic whack at the boomer Scorsese one more time, just to make the point even more dominant.

Just don't picture yourself as some sort of rebel or iconoclast in the process.
posted by argybarg at 10:41 AM on November 5, 2019 [17 favorites]


How much of his complaints are about "I don't like the new art" and how much are about formulaic storytelling, which is absolutely solid in superhero movies?
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:41 AM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


Also, my personal take on Marvel, which I despise, is a bit more nuanced than "it's not art HOW BOGUS". I think I've got two real issues with their films, which got to be too much for me to ignore after the original Avengers:

  1. The character moments are usually nice and well-acted, but the insistence on 2/3rds of the movie being violent spectacle really starts to grate on me, especially considering how vast the scale of violence tends to be. I hate knowing that it's coming, and I hate that, while it's happening, it effectively doesn't matter as part of the drama, because the outcomes are so stake-less. And something about that much violence without moral or psychological stakes feels gross.

  2. I just don't think that CGI action looks good. I don't think it results in compelling shots. I don't think the effects are particularly breathtaking. I don't like the color compositions, I don't like how much it just swirls about—camera included—rather than capturing meaningful motion, and I find myself sitting there, bored and a little nauseated.

I mean, I think Zack Snyder is fucking horrid, and speaking of Watchmen he utterly missed the novel's point, but I kinda like how obsessively 9/11 his shot at superheros was? It's not like the rest don't do that shit—at least Snyder, in his dim way, made it explicit how pornographically dystopian the superhero movie has to be in order to properly work.
posted by rorgy at 10:47 AM on November 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


If someone felt like their life was changed by Dan Brown novels … well, first of all, I'm not an asshole in life, so I'd just smile and say "oh, cool." But I'd probably think: There's greater stuff out there.

I think this is getting to our disconnect. You would think that "there's greater stuff out there." But - would your opinion of the person who likes Dan Brown be swayed by the fact that they were deeply affected by Dan Brown? I'd wager that the answer is "no." You've accepted that "okay, it works for them, fine". If so - then why entertain the wish that they aspire to "greater stuff out there" if they've found something that makes them happy?

But if you're going to say that there's no distinction to be drawn between formulaic fantasy books and great writing, I think you're wrong. If you say that you and I won't agree on what the greatest books are, and especially that we're not going to agree on one individual Greatest Book, you're right. But if you're taking the skeptical stance that all writing is of equal value, and that it's all just opinion, then I don't agree.

Counter-argument - if you and I can't agree on what the greatest books are, and you accept that, then how would you ever define the distinction between "formulaic fantasy books and great writing" in the first place in any meaningful way?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:49 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


What is it about Black Panther that to you reads as "not great", though? We have a person here for whom it has totally changed their world view, that was one of the things that you thought film should strive to achieve. Well, Black Panther did it for this person. So why do you feel that it is still lesser-than in this instance?

Black Panther had a great style, but its action scenes- particularly its final fight- are drenched in CGI instead of practical effects that removes the realism of physical weight. And to be fair, it's not specific to the movie (or even MCU movies specifically), but it does make it resemble other MCU films in that respect. Here's a good analysis of why they should've stuck to using the real Black Panther suit they built.

Of course, that doesn't mean the movie can't be great in other respects, but it does highlight a problem common to MCU/superhero/blockbuster movies, which otherwise goes unchallenged due to their overwhelming box office, critical, and popular sentiment success.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:49 AM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


On the subject of movie being made by committee being not cinema or art, I submit Casablanca. Product of the studio system, multiple writers for the script, a director who few can name off the top of their heads, an at the time unremarkable leading man, etc.

And yet it's quite possibly the best movie ever made (at least in the top ten). So not having an autuer at the helm, a single visionary, does not make a piece not cinema.

His criticism of the other aspects are better founded, but great art can arise from a collective, not just an individual's vision.
posted by Hactar at 10:50 AM on November 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


I consume this superhero stuff like junk food. That's what it is, junk food. A lot of the time it just makes me feel sick and even when I enjoy it, I enjoy it like a bag of Sweet Chili Heat Doritos. Sure I can eat an entire family-sized bag in one sitting but this is not me at my best.

Frankly I don't understand a perspective that feels compelled to defend this stuff as art. It makes no sense to me. Looking at the massive capital being invested in this stuff, churning out entertainment product and properties to divert us every month, I mean.. What are you arguing? If it's not clear what this is all about, I dunno.
posted by elkevelvet at 10:52 AM on November 5, 2019 [11 favorites]


And on the flip side, the Star Wars prequels were more or less the product of a single man who was given one of the biggest blank checks in history to produce his vision.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:52 AM on November 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


Can we just agree that when a piece of culture makes me feel something it qualifies as art?

And that when it makes you feel something you're wrong?
posted by justkevin at 10:54 AM on November 5, 2019 [11 favorites]


EmpressCallypigos:

I guess I'm okay with the ambiguity, you're not. I can't prove that one piece of writing is greater than another, but it's not a question of proof. Neither is morality, personal and political. But still we take up the effort, because we get value out of the effort.

If you require proofs and definitions without exceptions, then you're right: All works are of equal value.

It also suggests we're never going to come to a meaningful agreement on this issue, but at least we had a chance to have our say.
posted by argybarg at 10:55 AM on November 5, 2019


Also - Argybargy, I think our tastes in movies are more similar than different. My only objection is to the very notion of a value-judgement scale-of-quality in the first place, because doing so can actually come across as intimidating. I have started a movie-viewing project; one that I actually wanted to do for years but avoided, because I felt like all of the artistic argument platitudes in favor of a lot of these classic movies meant that I wouldn't understand them, because I hadn't been properly schooled in film theory. That kind of sliding-scale of "these are high art, those aren't" can backfire and make the very people you wish would watch them shun them because they may feel themselves to be lesser-than.

What I realized, though, was that at the end of the day, Ingmar Bergman made Fanny and Alexander for exactly the same reason that George Lucas made Star Wars - they both had stories they wanted to tell, and they both welcomed whoever wanted to listen. Whether either of their films were high or low class, high or low art, or anything like that, didn't matter to them; they made their movies to be seen by people, period.

I am a people. I am a people who liked Star Wars. I am also a people who has fallen in love with Buster Keaton (except for The General, but there may be a reason for that), and I am also a people who is actually kind of meh on Charlie Chaplin. I am also a people who loved Guardians of the Galaxy II. I am also a people who loved Lost In Translation, even though one time when I saw it my friend who came with me turned to me and blurted out "I didn't like that at all." I am a people who actually kinda liked Ishtar. I am also a people who really got a kick out of the dance in Top Hat. I am a people who opens herself up to as many movies as possible, without restrictions, because how I respond to any of those movies is going to be unique to me and what I am bringing to it.

I am also a people, however, who is concerned that the studios' need to make money is causing the moviehouses to screen only guaranteed money-making fare, and that is causing problems for the smaller films. However, I am also a people who understands that this should not be taken as any kind of value judgement on the works themselves, and is more a reflection on the costs of keeping a movie theater going. It was ever thus, though.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:02 AM on November 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos, I feel like you're continually responding to an argument that Martin Scorsese didn't make.
posted by rorgy at 11:05 AM on November 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


Ang Lee's Hulk tried to do something different and interesting in the superhero genre and everybody (except me) hated it.
posted by sjswitzer at 11:06 AM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


I think there are a few touchstone things here. Because on one hand it's easy to dismiss someone (or, up the ladder, some soulless board) producing content to cash in as incapable of art. However, that's also a bit dismissive of plenty of creatives who don't have the privilege of sustaining themselves any other way than going to, say, the audio editing desk every day for a paycheck. Doing things because you love them is itself a privileged position. Does that make it more or less out of touch? And doing something because you love it definitely makes it more genuine, but it sure as hell doesn't always make it better. I mean, Neil Breen exists. But I suppose that the reason for creating something isn't a 1:1 antecedent to quality the way I feel some commenters are portraying it. So long as humans have limited lives, creative works are necessarily products of spent resources, and those resources can't not be important. In that way, there's no such thing as cinema operating outside of some kind of transactional world.

Honestly I think the most meaningful part of the question about "is the MCU art" is the discussion it creates, because I think insofar as a meaningful answer exists, it's everything anyone says after reading the article. Because while I agree absolutely that the cynical kind of mathematically broad, hyper-engineered appeal that Disney is deliberately generating will necessarily be different from what Scorsese is referring to as cinema and therefore art, I think that as audiences we stand to learn just as much about life from them--inasmuch as life is now run by megacorporations--and art appearing in them may very well be independent of its creator entirely. And for anyone reading this as a pro-MCU argument, that's entirely not the case. Disney in particular can be quite evil and their effect on copyright, just for a single example, has been a clear net negative for society. And their search for universal appeal often reduces content to, well,

Isotonic, Fungible Entertainment Product™.

But that has no bearing on whether it's art or not. Because art isn't always intentional and many of the little things that make films work are (sometimes) almost entirely chance. I mean, Scorsese should believe what he does, being who he is. He has creative standards. It's just a good thing we got away from prescriptivism.
posted by Phyltre at 11:07 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos, I feel like you're continually responding to an argument that Martin Scorsese didn't make.

Well, yeah, because I'm responding to Argybargy, not Scorcese. :-)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:09 AM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


Not every meal has to be from a three star Michelin kitchen. The mac and cheese your mom makes is just as valid.

I would wager your mom's mac and cheese sucks ass compared to a three star Michelin meal, if we're voting.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:12 AM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


And also, as much as fandom has been derided as the unthinking enabler of shitty product here - which would have made a lot more sense before the Game of Thrones finale happened, let me tell you - there is something to be said about being into something because there is a built in community around dissecting and remixing and critiquing the original piece. Especially if those in the community are the sorts of voices that aren't found in film criticism. I can't tell you how much of Captain America: The Winter Soldier I love because of the film itself and how much I love because of the sheer amount of queer socialist fanfic I consumed in 2014. I know that my love of Black Widow has more to do with the fandom creations than the cinematic ones.

If fandom does support a bland, emotionally calculated product longer than its sell-by date (which really is questionable, honestly - what appeals to fandom is not what appeals to the masses) - it's because fandom is using that product for its own creative efforts. This isn't to say that all creative fanworks are good or innovative (they are not), but if you're looking for a space where there's less commercial pressure against risk taking but still an in-built audience, well.
posted by dinty_moore at 11:13 AM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


I just know there's a difference between when a movie is trying to push my buttons and when it's trying to offer me something. I sometimes like getting my buttons pushed, I guess, but less and less with time.

A lot of arthouse movies, including ones on Sight & Sound and other polls of the Greatest Ever, did nothing for me. I don't like Chaplin much, either. I think The Searchers is hugely overhyped and actually unpleasant. And so forth.

The problem for me is that there is a ritual in American life in tilting at the windmill of Elitism. That sad windmill has been tilted into ruins so many times, there's barely anything left. At this point it's not a thrilling new argument to say that maybe pop culture has something to say, too — there is barely anything but pop culture. But still we have to beat any tiny glimmers of Art Snobbery wherever they appear, for some reason. It's practically an autoimmune disorder.

If there's anything I feel strongly about, it's that there are frontiers people should explore that are not just the bland face of pop culture. I feel like a few key people I knew or read helped me find my way to Delta blues and Japanese cinema and James Joyce and a thousand other non-mainstream things that felt like they had a terrific depth and wisdom to them that I just can't find in cineplexes.

But saying that is like putting your helmet up over the foxhole: Snobbery! Shoot at it!

If you love Dan Brown novels, I don't hate you or even exert any personal judgements on you. I just feel — and no, I can't back this up with proofs or ironclad examples — that reading can give you greater and more meaningful experiences than Dan Brown books can. And I'm not wrong about that, and you feel that in your guts, too, don't you? Otherwise why bother teaching literature, why bother writing about these things, why bother with any of it? If it's all just who makes the most money, then just count the dollars and shut up.

If you're eating at Applebee's and Olive Garden your whole life, you may be perfectly happy. But there's better food out there. There just is. Go out and try it. You and I may disagree on what the better food is, but fer Christ's sake, there's better food out there. And when all the better little restaurants get shut down and squeezed out by Applebee's and Olive Garden, it's not snobbery to find it sad.
posted by argybarg at 11:25 AM on November 5, 2019 [21 favorites]


And on the flip side, the Star Wars prequels were more or less the product of a single man who was given one of the biggest blank checks in history to produce his vision.

The Star Wars prequels are infinitely more interesting than any Marvel movie.
posted by Automocar at 11:30 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


I would wager your mom's mac and cheese sucks ass compared to a three star Michelin meal, if we're voting.

I think availability, cost, sustainability, and reproducibility are almost as important as what ends up on the plate. For me, a Michelin star is something like doing overtime one week giving you 100% on your year's attendance score, or your vacations being the primary determining factor in calculating your quality of life. The rest of the ecosystem still exists and can't be disengaged from it. The vast majority of meals simply can't be Michelin Star meals, for many logistical and cost reasons. The idea that rarity and refinement of experience are necessarily positives is...well, subjective. Which might be part of why we can't agree on whether the MCU could possibly be art to someone or not.
posted by Phyltre at 11:30 AM on November 5, 2019


Does Gemini Man prove or disprove Scorsese's point would be a fun essay to punish students with
posted by polymodus at 11:33 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


That's the Disney model...

this kind of makes me want to see a biopic -- or american experience-style doc! -- on jon favreau or rian johnson (like with a sequence/segment on comics killing comedy ;)
posted by kliuless at 11:34 AM on November 5, 2019


Not getting into the whole art/not-art thing, but:

The character moments are usually nice and well-acted, but the insistence on 2/3rds of the movie being violent spectacle really starts to grate on me, especially considering how vast the scale of violence tends to be. I hate knowing that it's coming, and I hate that, while it's happening, it effectively doesn't matter as part of the drama, because the outcomes are so stake-less. And something about that much violence without moral or psychological stakes feels gross.

Everyone really does watch a different movie. To me, the entire point of the MCU, from beginning to end, was the moral and psychological stakes of violence, on both an individual-character and a societal level, and those stakes appear both within specific movies and throughout the entire MCU as it progresses.
posted by current resident at 11:42 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


I've spent the better part of an hour trying to articulate what bugs me about the argument that us vs. them argument between art house film people and popular movie people. And the my answer is that it is terrible for getting people who aren't currently art house movie goers to consider seeing those movies.

I work in the non-profit theatre sector, often specifically dealing with audience development. So much of the current conversation around theatre audience development is around the culture of going to see a show. It isn't just the content of the show itself, but the whole theatrical experience. It's how easy is it to buy tickets, how do the other audience members treat you in the building, are there unspoken expectations, and so on. The way I look at the world -- which is very much formed by my occupation -- is that I'd like to find ways to encourage more cross-pollination of audiences. I think the "the other side won, let me lick my wounds over here" doesn't help fund/support the type of art that it's defending. EC gets into this up thread when she talks about how the attitude can be seen as intimidating to those who might be willing to make the jump into watching a different type of movie.

However, I also get that people are tired of a certain type of storytelling, not necessarily thinking about how to get more people to an art house, and just want to see the movies they want to see more often. And my argument is admittedly a different argument than the artistic value of a Marvel movie.

And this is way up thread now, but I'm also bothered by the assumption that yes, there is a lot more cultural content out there out now, but it's all terrible. I think the variety of things available is amazing. This past year, I got to experience many pieces of historical fiction with lesbian love stories (books, movies, plays) -- now, this is my personal catnip. But there was so much of it in 2019, compared to 2009. And much of it was good, some of it transcendent. I think a lot of different types of storytellers are telling a lot of different types of stories that didn't have the capacity to be told before. I get bemoaning how capitalism impacts art. I don't get bemoaning that a lot of different stories from different points of view are being told now that weren't being greenlit before.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 11:43 AM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


That’s well said. Perhaps instead of thinking of high-low we’re talking about exploration.
posted by argybarg at 11:46 AM on November 5, 2019


Scorsese has done more than any US filmmaker to get movies by female directors and directors of color produced, restored, and distributed. They are exactly the kinds of movies Disney has driven to the brink of extinction and the white kids calling him an old white man don't care.

If he'd written an op-ed about how we should make more space for movies by female directors and directors of color, nobody would be saying "ok, boomer". If what he wanted to do was talk about the importance of heterogeneity in movie listings, he could have done that and nobody would be criticizing him for being outdated, dismissive, condescending, narrow-minded, etc.

But the first half of his piece is about how an entire widely-loved genre isn't, and can never be, Art. That is a very different argument. And it's a stupid one: it uses a totally personal and self-contradictory definition of art that excludes any other understanding. It discounts all the ways a movie can be valuable and even mind-blowing without being art (the example above, for example, about what it's like for kids to see black heroes, female heroes, non-American heroes suddenly be huge both on screen and in popular culture - and that's moving, inspiring, and risky, even if it's not art). It makes it sound like you can be on the superhero movie side or on the Scorcese movie side, but not both.

Most importantly, it just pulls superhero movies down instead of building anything up. Call for spending more money on non-blockbuster movies, suggest financing models to make that realistic, find ways to get people excited about the types of movies you want them to see. Work on selling people on what you actually love. Show support for the popular, mega-budget movies that are profound and beautiful. But to say "hey, your entire favorite movie genre sucks" - what kind of response was that ever going to get besides, rightly, "ok, boomer"?

I really sympathize with his desire to see more of the kinds of movies he values being made. I just think that, unless he was purposely trolling, he chose a really ineffective and distracting way of making that desire known. It's not weird that people here and everywhere else are responding to the distraction that he himself put forth.
posted by trig at 11:47 AM on November 5, 2019 [14 favorites]


For finding interesting movies to watch, I've actually found looking at the postings on FanFare pretty helpful, as well as movie reviews and film festival listings - especially international ones, since those movies can be harder to ever hear about.

(Which brings up another point: while on the one hand Disney et al.'s desire for global audiences favors explosion movies over dialogue movies, Netflix's desire for global audiences has meant that suddenly it's much easier for non-pirating Americans (for example) to access series and movies from all over the world, in all kinds of languages, conveniently and without the usual stigma of being something that only film snobs would ever watch. That's a new thing in the US at least, and it's amazing. The brave new world Scorcese worries about has a lot of potential, too.)
posted by trig at 11:59 AM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


If there's anything I feel strongly about, it's that there are frontiers people should explore that are not just the bland face of pop culture. I feel like a few key people I knew or read helped me find my way to Delta blues and Japanese cinema and James Joyce and a thousand other non-mainstream things that felt like they had a terrific depth and wisdom to them that I just can't find in cineplexes.

But saying that is like putting your helmet up over the foxhole: Snobbery! Shoot at it!


Fair, but the flip side of that is that you may have a hard time convincing people to expand their horizons if you're starting by calling the things that they already enjoy "the bland face of pop culture". Saying that is coming across like peering down your nose at them: "the stuff you like isn't good enough, what's wrong with you?"

That is why I and others are advocating eliminating the gatekeeping angle. Instead of luring others in from a position of "you could be doing so much better than what you're doing", why not speak to them from a position of "you like that thing? Cool! Hey, there's this other thing over here that influenced that thing you like, lemme show you."

You know? Instead of "either/or" there's a "yes, and".

....and it goes without saying that it could also be fun to be open to them saying "hey, how about we do a deep dive into why I think Black Panther is maybe deeper than you gave it credit for."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:05 PM on November 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


The Star Wars prequels are infinitely more interesting than any Marvel movie.

You're not wrong. And they did well at the box office. But the prequels are arguably worse than they could have compared to if Lucas received more studio pressure or influence from somebody.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:09 PM on November 5, 2019


I really sympathize with his desire to see more of the kinds of movies he values being made. I just think that, unless he was purposely trolling, he chose a really ineffective and distracting way of making that desire known. It's not weird that people here and everywhere else are responding to the distraction that he himself put forth.

Yep.

It makes it sound like you can be on the superhero movie side or on the Scorcese movie side, but not both.

Plus, there are very good reasons to not valorize the "Scorcese movie" side. He's made some fabulous films, and has done a lot for film in general, but there are legit criticisms about the limitations of his stylistic tics and his violent and repetitive subject matter. Holding Scorcese up as some sort of pinnacle of filmmaking is a common kneejerk reaction, but a more measured evaluation of his work - much of which falls clearly within the tight boundaries of predictable genre fiction - puts him in no position to be an authority on which films should count as Cinema Art.

He's made a bunch of mainstream genre work with tired themes and goofy directorial choices.
posted by mediareport at 12:09 PM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


He's made a bunch of mainstream genre work with tired themes and goofy directorial choices.

Which in this context is pretty ironic, or maybe hypocritical: he and a few other directors are big enough that even their lousiest movies will always get funding, publicity, and screen time, at the expense of better movies by less well-known names. His movies have a built-in audience, just like superhero movies, and he benefits from the same corporate motivation for profit as superhero movies do, even if to a lesser extent.
posted by trig at 12:22 PM on November 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


I actually feel rather sad that genre films have reached such a level of bland competence. When they were weird because the people involved didn't quite know what they were doing, they had a lot better chance of being interesting.

"Snobbery is stupid and pointless, and most sweeping judgments of genre work reflect snobbery rather than considered aesthetic judgment" is actually a different argument than "aesthetic judgment is not possible, or even interesting." I mean, other films I've seen this year include Cold War, Wings of Desire, Odd Man Out, and Paris is Burning. Also I rewatched Le Samourai and much of Bob Le Flambeur as part of my long-term Melville situation. I'm happy to discuss the relative merits of these films amongst themselves (Cold War was a failure in my eyes) and across genre. Any one of those films, again maybe excepting Cold War, is better technically than any of the MCU films I've seen (which is almost all of them). But they're not different freaking species, and any attempt to judge any given one against a standard requires a care and attention not being deployed by Scorsese.

...which, again, is a separate argument from the one he's conflated with it about the distribution system failing to bring more ambitious movies to mainstream theaters, which I don't really disagree with.
posted by praemunire at 12:26 PM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


Way back when I was a teenager and a lot more of an asshole than I am now I argued with an older friend of mine, who had a PhD in art history and taught at universities on the topic of art. At one point he challenged me to define art, and I couldn't come up with a good definition at all.

He offered a definition I vehemently rejected at the time, but have come to realize I can't really find a good reason to reject: "Art is what people make".

My point here, and I do have one, is that arguing about whether Avengers is art or not is a waste of time. You can argue about whether you think it's **GOOD** or not, but trying to put stuff you like into the art category while excluding stuff you don't like is an exercise in futility.

Captian Marvel is art. Piss Christ is art. Fountain by Duchamp is art. Every horrible hyper pretentious wannabe avante garde play written by theater majors directed by and starring themselves is art. Cage's 4:33 is art. So is every screamcore liquid metal song.

If Scorsese wants to say "Disney's increasing monopoly on movies represents a dangerous trend that is excluding mid budget movies" that's totally valid and may even be true. But if, as he seems to be, he's trying to define movies he likes as art and movies he doesn't as not-art that's both invalid and not true. And I'm not trying to defend Disney here, I honestly think the distinction he's trying to draw is false.

I also think he's fighting a doomed battle to save a particular style of a dying medium. No one can save mid budget movies, anymore than anyone can save small town America and for basically the same reason: economics. That's not a value judgement, that's just a fact like gravity.

That doesn't mean the creative part that made them something Scorsese loved is going away, just that it is moving to a different medium. Again, I point to Roma. It's the absolute epitome of what he wants to call cinema, art, it just happens to have been made in a way he's unfamiliar with and isn't comfortable admitting is valid.

This is a bit, I think, like people arguing that symphonic music is being reduced to nothing but the great composers. Yes, because the cost of symphonic music is high enough no one is willing to do it for anything but the Beethovens and John Williamses of the world. But that doesn't mean no one is producing other music, just that it isn't music written for an 80 person orchestra performed in a giant concert hall. Other music, in other styles, is where you find that bonkers creativity that is so great and that initially propelled the 80 person symphonic orchestra to its position.

So yes, the mid budget movie is dead. Hail the mid budget Netflix production.
posted by sotonohito at 12:29 PM on November 5, 2019 [10 favorites]


mediareport, I'd take your arguments against Scorsese a little more seriously if you'd at least spell his name correctly.

Scorsese has done more than any US filmmaker to get movies by female directors and directors of color produced, restored, and distributed.

Those who don't understand how anyone could make such a claim are not familiar with Scorsese's non-credited work.

Has he done more than Ava DuVernay? Unquestionably. (Incidentally, her thoughts on Scorsese? "[A filmmaker] who has all the tools. All the time. All the talent. And lives up to it.")

Has he made some shit movies? Yes, all great directors have.

puts him in no position to be an authority on which films should count as Cinema Art.

If you think Martin Scorsese is not an authority on cinema, you literally have no idea what you're talking about. He is unquestionably one of the most literate experts on films and filmmaking in the history of the art form.

He's made a bunch of mainstream genre work with tired themes and goofy directorial choices.

Says the guy who recommends Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Wonder Woman.

Unbelievable.
posted by dobbs at 12:35 PM on November 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


There's thousands and thousands of fascinating movies of all kinds being made all over the world by all kinds of people. We live in a time of a massive and diverse explosion of cultural output. Lamenting that a specific mode of film production/distribution that existed in late 20th century US isn't viable in the same fashion as it used to be is myopic at best. It's like people who say there's no good music nowadays because there's no modern day equivalent of Led Zeppelin.
posted by signal at 12:38 PM on November 5, 2019 [6 favorites]




I love Birdman and Take Shelter and Olivier, Olivier. I also love Suburban Commando and XXX: The Return of Xander Cage. I am not going to pretend that the latter two films offer what the first three do, and I'm not going to flinch at the idea that they are qualitatively different in a way that makes one set objectively more artistic than the other. Why? Because it doesn't matter. When I want mindless escapism involving impossible jungle skiing, I'll get on the Diesel train. When I want to intellectually engage with a film, I'll watch The Lobster or Taxi Driver or Farewell My Concubine.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:41 PM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


Since I find fight scenes unbelievably boring, I can't with superhero films. I know that's probably an ignorant opinion, but I haven't yet seen one that isn't lots of acrobatic violence. Just not my thing.

But reading is my thing and here's an idea about Dan Brown as an inspiration that I have to say: if you think The Da Vinci Code is revelatory and mindblowing, you've been had. It's a pile of lies turned into entertainment that doesn't even turn around and wink. (And it's atrociously written, but that's another argument.) Dan Brown took a pile of lies masquerading as an expose and novelized it and had the temerity to start it out with a bunch of statements literally labeled FACT. Was that the wink? If so, it went right past a lot of readers.

The trouble with turning what you know are lies into entertainment is that our brains don't shelve fiction and non-fiction separately. There has been research done that found people who know a lot about a topic can read and enjoy fiction while knowing it's fictional; the bits they remember don't become part of their knowledge base. When people don't know much about the reality the fiction is based on, they are much more likely to mix up the made-up stuff with reality. When art, whether it's "art" or pop culture, deliberately lies to you to give you an emotional rush, it's manipulation and it's the enemy of what art should be.

Sometimes that's just commercialism. I know people will like this, so I'm not going to worry about what happens next. Sometimes it's Atlas Shrugged - I know exactly what I want to have happen next. Sometimes it's just lazy jingoism or other form of reinforcing things that we should question.

Now I'll shut up because this should be about film and you all are way more knowledgeable that I am about it.
posted by zenzenobia at 12:42 PM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


It's like people who say there's no good music nowadays because there's no modern day equivalent of Led Zeppelin.

Clearly those people have not heard of Wolfmother!
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:42 PM on November 5, 2019


I'd take your arguments against Scorsese a little more seriously if you'd at least spell his name correctly.

This wasn't aimed at me, but I think I also misspelled it, under the assumption that spell check would flag it if it was wrong. Lesson learned: it does not.

posted by trig at 12:44 PM on November 5, 2019


grumpybear69: "Clearly those people have not heard of Wolfmother!"

I'll raise you a Greta Van Fleet.
posted by signal at 12:47 PM on November 5, 2019


Amazing megathread and not a single mention of the greatest comic book villain of all time.
posted by sammyo at 12:52 PM on November 5, 2019


almost
posted by sammyo at 12:53 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


Thus their enduring appeal with children, who always feel powerless; and popularity with nerds, who often feel both powerless and alone; and with basically everyone else these days, given that the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket and as individuals we can't do much but stand by and watch as our institutions and democratic safeguards crumble and fail us.

I'll be honest, when I'm flagging on the treadmill these days I absolutely will cue up that scene in X-Men: First Class where pre-Magneto Erik kills the bar full of fugitive Nazis. The double-hand-stab is especially appreciated. It (and the prior scene where he tortures a Swiss banker who launders Nazi gold for information by ripping out one of his fillings) are also semi-bonkers in a way that would not fly in the modern MCU.
posted by praemunire at 1:12 PM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


Though we cannot say what forms art can take, we can actually say what art actually is. It's there - defined in the dictionary : "creative activity or the expression of human creative skills and imagination"

How do we test for it? Well, since conceivably no two humans have the same creative activity and expression, if we swap out the core teams responsible for the creation of an art we'd get two different results. That's why Star Wars prequels can conceivably be considered art. Bad as they may be, take Lucas out and you'd get vastly different products. It is *his* expression of creative activity. Same with Snyder's or Nolan's superhero movies. Like them or hate them, there's no argument you take those directors out and you'd get vastly different end results (you actually could kind of see this with Justice League when Whedon took over midway)

This is also how Michelin restaurants are different than Kraft's mac and cheese. Swap out the entire kitchen and you'd get different variations of similar food. Swap out entire production line from Kraft and nobody can tell the difference.

I have not seen enough MCU movies to make this determination myself but I do believe this is what Scorsese meant when he said the MCU movies are made by committee. They are, as a rule, interchangeable with no noticeable change with the end products since they're formulaic.
posted by 7life at 1:17 PM on November 5, 2019


X-Men: First Class is a 20th Century Fox joint, which earlier I had mixed up with Sony. Which reminds me- Deadpool is yet another superhero series that simply could not be made by Disney-Marvel.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:26 PM on November 5, 2019


Disney owns Deadpool now.
posted by octothorpe at 1:29 PM on November 5, 2019


I'm skeptical we'll see another Deadpool movie.
posted by No One Ever Does at 1:34 PM on November 5, 2019


He offered a definition I vehemently rejected at the time, but have come to realize I can't really find a good reason to reject: "Art is what people make".

I reject that to the point that I think 'artist' and 'poet' are terms you cannot give to yourself, they must be conveyed upon you by others, but my definition of 'others' does not differentiate between paid sycophants and genuine reactions or between 1 other or 1 million others, so maybe there is some stretch room there.

Rather, you can declare yourself a painter, songwriter, architect, band member, etc, movie maker, chef, etc. What you make is to be judged by others.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:38 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]



I think criticism of "superheroes" is even too broad.

I don't. If it involves somebody with so-called superpowers (and usually some kind of outfit/logo etc) and it's not primarily for laughs (ie: the Adam West Batman, Buckaroo Banzai) or working a Watchmen level of meta, then I'm very comfortable in blanketly dismissing all superheroes product as ... merely product and specifically, product I've learned to avoid because (back to the food analogy) they just lack nutrition. I don't doubt that there are a few superheroes movies out there that I may quite enjoy, but I've been burned way too many times to bother trying anymore. Life is too short. I'm with Marty ... even if I don't particularly care for a number of his films.

And yes, I am enjoying this discussion. Thank you everybody.
posted by philip-random at 1:44 PM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


sotonohito: "Captian Marvel is art. Piss Christ is art. Fountain by Duchamp is art. Every horrible hyper pretentious wannabe avante garde play written by theater majors directed by and starring themselves is art. Cage's 4:33 is art. "

"Art is a little boy's name." --Andy Warhol
posted by chavenet at 1:48 PM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


(Still reading through the thread, please pardon if redundant:) This is an argument in creative fields with a long history, and Scorsese’s mistake is in attempting a substantial, nuanced conversation publicly—those never seem to go well, nuance diminishes as scale increases.

But really, the false dilemma that runs this argument into a dead-end is when it’s framed as one of kind rather than of degree. It’s more sensible (to me) to say that Marvel movies are a different kind of cinema than the kind Scorsese tries to make, and both offer experiences that various audiences find valuable and rewarding.
posted by LooseFilter at 1:51 PM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


You know what comic book movie I love, Ghost World. Might have to watch that tonight in honor of this great discussion.
posted by sallybrown at 1:52 PM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


Since I find fight scenes unbelievably boring, I can't with superhero films. I know that's probably an ignorant opinion, but I haven't yet seen one that isn't lots of acrobatic violence. Just not my thing.

It's not an ignorant opinion! You know that this doesn't work for you, so you avoid films that you know have elements you don't like, easy-peasy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:56 PM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


Disney owns the X-Men now, too. I'm guessing they'll pick a new nemesis of some kind, because if there's one thing the MCU can't tolerate long-term, it's a relatable villain.

If it involves somebody with so-called superpowers (and usually some kind of outfit/logo etc) and it's not primarily for laughs (ie: the Adam West Batman, Buckaroo Banzai) or working a Watchmen level of meta, then I'm very comfortable in blanketly dismissing all superheroes product as ... merely product and specifically, product I've learned to avoid because (back to the food analogy) they just lack nutrition.

Guess you'll never get to see Fast Color, then.
posted by praemunire at 2:25 PM on November 5, 2019


sallybrown: "You know what comic book movie I love, Ghost World. Might have to watch that tonight in honor of this great discussion."

Seconded. It's quite brilliant. Scott Pilgrim, though different, is also a masterpiece.
posted by signal at 2:28 PM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


I have not seen enough MCU movies to make this determination myself but I do believe this is what Scorsese meant when he said the MCU movies are made by committee. They are, as a rule, interchangeable with no noticeable change with the end products since they're formulaic.

Also, I honestly don't want to go too far down the road of arguing the artistic merit of these movies, but this is an argument that depends on not having seen them. The big group vehicles don't have much distinctive about them, true, and they ask for and get the most attention, so fair enough on that, but you could not swap Russo for Gunn for Waititi and get the same movies. You would not watch Winter Soldier, GotG II, and Ragnarok back-to-back and think they were all off the same production line. Kenneth Branagh directed the first Thor, for pity's sake. If we're going to get sniffy about aesthetics, tone and style matter at least as much as whether they'd hit the same plot beats.
posted by praemunire at 2:31 PM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


A good piece on the setting and set design: Batman, Superman, Captain America, and X-Men vs. Architecture by Darren Franich
There’s no sense of place in Batman v Superman. But that reflects a weird broadening at the core of all these superhero movies: As their interests become global, the specificity drains away. Captain America and Spider-Man joke about “Brooklyn” and “Queens,” but only when they’re fighting across an airport in Saxony. (Civil War is, I believe, the first movie where someone gets captured in Bucharest but then immediately flown to Berlin.) The Kent Family Farm in Kansas is shot with the same bleached-dusk grit as Wayne Manor. Actually, they both uncannily resemble Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting Christina’s World, and maybe some future post-retro-unironic generation of critics will dig some accidental wit out of the fact that only Zack Snyder could reimagine Christina’s World with the sick striving young girl replaced by twin identical bicep bros.
There’s a weird utilitarian streak to all of Marvel’s movies, which is a roundabout way of saying that almost none of the sets stick with you. The places are boring, even a bit cheap-looking. The almost-exception is the Manhattan of Marvel’s Netflix underverse. The Netflix shows begin with the just nonsensical idea that the massive destruction of New York seen in The Avengers was actually limited a few spaceships falling on a few city blocks in midtown, bombing Hell’s Kitchen back to the Scorsese age. The Netflix shows have real locations – usually Brooklyn and Long Island City, marginally affordable neighborhoods doubling for luxury-priced Manhattan.
Actually, Franich's lovely meandering pop cultural analyses probably deserve their own FPP.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:49 PM on November 5, 2019 [6 favorites]


The movies are meant to be seen in a theater, but thanks to Netflix I was able to watch Taxi Driver and Mean Streets this month on my big screen TV. There is so much there, they are both works of art and historical documents. You can really breathe the air in those films, there are feelings and performances that are truly something completely different from what today's superhero movies are doing. I'm not sure of the right nomenclature of what is or isn't "cinema" but we do need linguistic distinctions between different forms of entertainment/art.
posted by chaz at 2:54 PM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


Says the guy who recommends Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Wonder Woman.

dobbs, I have no idea what you're going on about. I don't think I've ever commented about 3 of those movies on this site, and certainly not in this thread. And for the record, here's what I said in FanFare about Spider-Man: Homecoming:

What a disappointment this one was. Sure, I'm way outside the age range for the target audience, despite being a major Spidey fan my entire life, but it almost totally lacked the joy and emotional resonance of that first, wonderful Raimi film...the script gave him almost nothing to work with beyond high school romance, then smothered him in existing MCU baggage. Maybe they'll get him right next time....

This movie dropped the ball completely in the third act, with a slight redemption when Peter turns down the Avengers gig. That climactic nighttime fight was almost as bad as anything Zack Snyder has come up with. Horrifying to think anyone in the MCU is thinking along that kind of direction.


The spelling crack - well, touché (though I will say I've been misspelling his name in tweets and emails quite often over the past year; shitty misspellings tend to stick in my brain and I rely on spellcheck a lot), but I'm nearly 100% certain I've watched more of Skorsese's work than you, and more recently. The preservation work he's done I acknowledged above, but Ava Duvernay has been finding women of color whose film careers stalled after their first feature and giving them work. I say she's definitely done more than him to promote those directors.
posted by mediareport at 3:12 PM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


Since there's so much defense of elitism in this thread, can I point out that the discussion about what is and isn't art is quite hoi polloi, on par with people who go to museums and comment on how easy or hard they think the paintings would be to paint.
posted by signal at 3:22 PM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


He is unquestionably one of the most literate experts on films and filmmaking in the history of the art form.

See, this is exactly the kind of overblown hagiographic exaggeration that is routinely promoted and accepted among Scorsese stans. "Unquestionably," indeed. I heard this stuff, believed it, and so grabbed a copy of My Voyage To Italy, his 4-hour magnum opus love letter to Italian cinema.

It was....okay. There were a few neat insights into the directors, especially early on, and his joy at revisiting the films he saw rerun on New York television as a child was infectious, for sure. But as far as depth of analysis goes, it was a disappointment. With a few exceptions - the section on Antonioni had some good thoughts, but nothing you wouldn't get in a Film Studies 101 class - most of the time was taken up with plot summaries and long clips of the climactic moments in many of the films.

If anyone else has watched this - the best thing I could find locally to get a handle on the "HE'S A GENIUS AT FILM ANALYSIS" claim - I'd love to hear your take. Or if there's more evidence you can point to that Scorsese's film analysis genius is "unquestionable," I'm open to look at it.
posted by mediareport at 3:26 PM on November 5, 2019


Since there's so much defense of elitism in this thread, can I point out that the discussion about what is and isn't art is quite hoi polloi, on par with people who go to museums and comment on how easy or hard they think the paintings would be to paint.

Oh no, what ever will I do if someone thinks I’m bourgeois !!
posted by sallybrown at 3:30 PM on November 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


You can really breathe the air in those films, there are feelings and performances that are truly something completely different from what today's superhero movies are doing. I'm not sure of the right nomenclature of what is or isn't "cinema" but we do need linguistic distinctions between different forms of entertainment/art.

I think there's a greater trend at play here of movies having faster and faster pacing, quicker cuts, conversations that are less natural, and well, more cinematic. When I watch a modern movie, the slow scenes- the mundane conversations in rooms without too much interesting background- and feel vaguely rushed and unlike real life dialogue. Not to mention that the technological improvements in modern editing and mass adoption of color filters can make slow scenes look more washed-out and dreamlike, or at least stylized. Has anyone else noticed this? That movies made even in the '90s feel like they have less production value, but also a little more "real", in that the slow moments feel boring, and less cinematic?

None of this is caused by superhero movies, but ironically it resembles comic books and graphic novels in the sense that unlike longer works (books or television and so forth), you have to cram in more meaning and content in less space, so creators end up stylizing works in such a way to make them look more evocative. I don't think Scorsese himself is any different from any other contemporary non-art student director, in this respect.
posted by Apocryphon at 3:32 PM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


Or if there's more evidence you can point to that Scorsese's film analysis genius is "unquestionable," I'm open to look at it.

For me, it is the way he puts himself on the line for "The Red Shoes."
posted by No Robots at 3:41 PM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


I never saw a superhero venturing into SoHo for a hookup with a plaster of Paris bagel and cream cheese, only to be chased down by an angry mob and eventually turned into a statue, so Scorcese's got that going for him in the credibility department.
posted by Chuffy at 4:14 PM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


bro fuck movies I READ BOOKS MOTHERFUCKERS YALL EVER HEARD OF THOSE
posted by gucci mane at 4:45 PM on November 5, 2019 [10 favorites]


bro fuck movies I READ BOOKS MOTHERFUCKERS YALL EVER HEARD OF THOSE
posted by gucci mane


don't you mean GRAPHIC NOVELS?????
posted by Chuffy at 4:48 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure of the right nomenclature of what is or isn't "cinema" but we do need linguistic distinctions between different forms of entertainment/art.

Er, we have linguistic distinctions between different forms of art:

* books
* movies
* plays
* paintings
* songs
* sculpture
* dances

Those are all different words that differentiate between different forms of art, in the sense that a painting is not a ballet.

....If you're talking about how "I had a different reaction to movie A than I did to movie B and therefore we need different words to describe them", then I ask: why?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:49 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


Outrage over Black Panther not being nominated? Ridiculous. (Again, I've seen it.)

I think I'd be okay with BP not getting a nomination (and the various amounts of shade thrown at superhero movies in general) in a world where Return of the King didn't get a nomination, let alone win a Best Picture Oscar.

I wonder what Scorsese and others thought of the art or "cinematic" nature of RotK. I feel like any knock you want to make against Panther or Endgame or what have you also applies to RotK. Crap CGI? Did you see that scene with the ghost army arriving in Gondor? No stakes? Show of hands: who thought Gimli, Legolas, Gandalf the White, Aragorn, Sam, Eowyn, or Frodo wouldn't make it to the final reel of that movie? Ham-handed plot structure? Them multiple endings in RotK tho.

In fact, I feel like rather than taking any chances on a new reading of its source material, RotK played it safe and ending up bringing forward into the modern era the absolute shittiest part of Tolkien's oeuvre, which is often "forgiven" by fans as him being a so-called product of his time: assuring the beautiful, nearer-to-divine white people of the North and West that God has ordained their ultimate triumph over the ugly, stunted dark people of the South and East no matter how grim it may seem at times as they look over their walls at the slavering, barbaric hordes. And it still got that little gold statue for being the best "cinema" had to offer.

So, yeah, I get the points about over-saturation and film-by-committee and all, but we ought to remember other films with these same sins have received the highest honor, and we ought to question why that's so.
posted by lord_wolf at 5:03 PM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


He ain't wrong. I thought Jodie Foster was really perceptive when she compared the glut of superhero movies to fracking: "You get the best return right now but you wreck the earth." We only have to look at the comics business to see how grim things can get when you go ALL-IN on superheroes, basing your entire industry on a single genre that people tend to age out of. The studios are making the same mistake on a much, much bigger scale.

I say this as somebody who's enjoyed some superhero movies, I'm no film snob... but it's kind of appalling to think about all the classic films that just could not get made now because they don't fit that very specific blockbuster franchise model.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:06 PM on November 5, 2019 [9 favorites]


We do have different terms:

Art house cinema
kung fu films
horror
comedy
drama
period piece
indie
mumblecore
dogma95
blockbuster
anime
hentai
political dance thiller
sci fi
muppetcore
machinima
Hallmark
buddy cop dramedy
oscar bait
my little pony
and Olsen Twinema
posted by grumpybear69 at 5:06 PM on November 5, 2019 [10 favorites]


Return of the King won Best Picture as a legacy thing to recognize the entire trilogy, because Fellowship and Two Towers didn't.
posted by Apocryphon at 5:41 PM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


Dibs on Olsen Twinema.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 6:07 PM on November 5, 2019


and Olsen Twinema

I'd just like to take this opportunity for your monthly reminder that Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, is the Olsen twins' little sister, and she appears in one of their movies where they bully her for being younger, they sing a song about how annoying she is, and who's laughing now, huh?

I'd say that wraps up this discussion nicely.
posted by signal at 6:34 PM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


Disney owns Deadpool now.

Deadpool vs. Maleficent
posted by sammyo at 6:46 PM on November 5, 2019


I choose to believe that Scarlet Witch is non-canonically part of the Olsen Cinematic Universe.
posted by dephlogisticated at 6:47 PM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


Whenever we have an oppressive monoculture which dominates the genre, it eventually staggers and collapses into oblivion. Only to rise up again, eventually.
posted by ovvl at 6:48 PM on November 5, 2019


"Gimme Pizza (slow)" reenacted by the Avengers.
posted by wordless reply at 6:50 PM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


This is a complex and multilayered topic that ranges from what we individually believe are the definitions of "cinema" and "art," to the influence of the military-industrial complex on Hollywood films, to what counts as emotional engagement, but I think all of us can agree that Chris Evans deserved an Oscar nomination for his work as Steve Rogers.
posted by tzikeh at 6:52 PM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


This has been a nice debate. Thank you. I sometimes go see Marvel movies just so I can have a discussion about movies with other human beings, but it's a one-way street: the people arguing passionately about which Spiderman reboot is the best will not rent an Ozu movie, or watch a silent film. I love lots of movies: that's the point of movies-- they are popular entertainment! But almost everyone I know has only seen certain types of movies of their era and nothing else, and only American movies. I once urged someone to watch Fellini's "7 1/2" and they embarrassedly didn't get it, but how could they when they have nothing to compare it to except "Star Wars" and superhero movies? And how can they understand that even if I think it's a great movie, I can name a hundred other movies I think are equally great because I've seen a tonload of movies. I think "Raging Bull" is a great movie, too. And I liked that "Spiderverse" movie.
posted by acrasis at 6:58 PM on November 5, 2019 [7 favorites]


I poorly remember an essay by David Mamet that divided Hollywood movies between "drama" and "circus" indicating a work that primarily is for the story or the stunts (cgi/explosions/actual huge stunts). Most comicbook films have a story but it's used to hang the visualization of those images with few words but amazing swirls, capes and pows and whams.

Is the essence of the Marvel films deeply examine the relationship between Black Widow and Hawkeye or to show that amazing stunt where one flings the other across the battle to defeat the current big bad?

Marvel == cirque. Hugo was a bit cirque but Taxi Drive and the rest of his oeuvre was story/theater/drama.
posted by sammyo at 7:09 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


Coming back here after watching the first episode of Watchmen (which is excellent, and also starts with the bombing of black wall street, so you know it's not fucking around when it comes to black history and race relations in these here United States), and the more and more I think about it, the more it seems obvious that the issue is with movies and the consolidation of movie production and movie distribution and not with the genre.

There was talk about whether Superheroes as a genre were inherently fascistic upthread, which was so inherently reductive that I didn't even bother to engage in it, but to be honest, the best examples I could think of that engaged with Superhero stories in other ways are on television (or in the comics themselves, but that's another kettle of fish). The first season of Jessica Jones is about surviving trauma. Raising Dion is essentially about the trials of raising a special needs kid. The first season of Legion . . . honestly, I couldn't tell you what it was about in the end, but for a narrative about a troubled-but-charismatic white guy, it certainly didn't glorify him that much, and you can't say it wasn't visually interesting or didn't take risks. None of these were good guys punching bad guys sorts of stories.

Point is, same cultural climate - same companies, sometimes, but change the distribution system, and you suddenly get a lot more interesting and different types of superhero stories that don't appear to need to appeal to a wide audience. The issue isn't with the genre, it's with the movie theaters. And the consolidation of movie theaters into giant cineplexes that would show the same thing on five screens, raising prices and then adding more amenities to try to make money, critics bemoaning movies having to reach the lowest common denominator because movie ticket sales have been falling for twenty years. It really could be worse - I could imagine a world where the bro road trip comedy took off, instead.

it's kind of appalling to think about all the classic films that just could not get made now because they don't fit that very specific blockbuster franchise model.


C'mon. Us came out this year. So did Hustlers. And Booksmart, and Midsommar (the Favourite was at the very end of 2018, but barely) Jojo Rabbit, The Lighthouse, and Harriet* are playing at my local theaters right now, and am organizing people for Knives Out. There are probably films that aren't getting any money because a safer blockbuster is being made, but there are plenty of good movies still being made, and a good number of the films listed above wouldn't have been made in the early 90's or 70's either. This was not a bad year for good films, and this is the best time of year for them. Ignoring that (and ignoring all of the forgettable schlock put out by the studios of yore) seems more like nostalgic fetishism than anything else.

*I don't actually know if Harriet is any good, but it's not a superhero movie. Unless I'm really missing something.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:33 PM on November 5, 2019 [8 favorites]


Sammyo, the Marvel movies definitely aren't a deep examination of Hawkeye and Black Widow, neither of which was a main character or has (so far) had a movie to their name. But Tony Stark? Steve Rogers? Peter Quill? Thor? "Deep" probably isn't the right word to use, but their characterization is handled very well, and it's every bit as important as the action. The Marvel movies wouldn't have had this degree of success if people weren't invested in the characters and their stories.
posted by Green Winnebago at 8:43 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


acracis: I once urged someone to watch Fellini's "7 1/2" and they embarrassedly didn't get it, but how could they when they have nothing to compare it to except "Star Wars" and superhero movies?

Maybe they didn't get it because 7 1/2 is an Indian romantic comedy, and you meant for them to watch 8 1/2, the Fellini masterpiece.

Or maybe everyone in this thread throwing around art-house titles could take a step back and realize that you're on Meta-Fucking-Filter and you don't need to whip out your deep-cut cred to put up shibboleths to keep the plebes at bay. Everyone here has deep-cut cred in some field or other. Jesus fuck.

(Also, you know who else didn't get 8 1/2? Most fuckin' people. So holding it up as a "how could they not understand this -- oh it's because they're just teh stupids with no culture or taste" is tarring a LOT of people with a nasty little brush.)
posted by tzikeh at 9:17 PM on November 5, 2019 [14 favorites]


the more it seems obvious that the issue is with movies and the consolidation of movie production and movie distribution and not with the genre.

couldn't agree more, but the flip of this is that some genres are inherently more ... influential than others. And the superhero thing, with its long and dense history going all the way back to the time of myths and legends (as has been pointed out already in this thread) ... well, it's long worried me, knowing enough about the rise and rise Hitler's Reich to grasp how cannily, cunningly, he wove his twisted-to-the-point-of-pornographic ideology in and out of the existing mythologies of his day ...

And that's why I can't quite buy the easy-peasy shrug of the shoulders the superhero stuff gets from so many (it's all just entertainment, easy stuff for folks living hard lives yadda-yadda-yadda). I wish it were all so trivial, but it ain't. Because cinema is a singularly powerful medium (which Martin Scorcese grasps most acutely) playing with no less than the stuff of our dreams and imaginations. So yeah, I'm with him all the way on this.

This Is This. This Ain't Something Else.
posted by philip-random at 9:19 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


I think the MCU issue thing is more of a Disney monolith problem than specifically superhero movies. I remember when noted culture scold weenie Ross Douthat was prophetically whining about superhero movies before Obama was elected. Fans scoffed at that sort of elitism.

But I feel that Disney's preeminence is problematic for the industry, and perhaps even pop culture in general. There's a sort of sterile perfection aspect to their dominance. Their war machine clanks on year after year. There's a sort of totalizing phenomenon to how MCU releases are these massive tentpole events that everyone feels obligated to attend. You don't get the same vibe with Fox's offerings (action movies that happen to feature superheroes) and DC's (hilarious attempts to copy the MCU). If superhero films were just scattershot attempts by these second banana studios, it'd just be another blockbuster genre, and not this House of Mouse-generated enforced zeitgeist.

It's really a too much of a good thing, thing. At least Disney's scaling back on Star Wars.

Imagine when they figure out how to make a good video game adaptation. Then the floodgates will truly open. Imagine Pixar presents Fortnite circa 2022.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:31 PM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


Philip-Random, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the lines between the "sjw" and "real comics fans" have long been drawn, and Marvel has been long since deemed too liberal (with the exception of the punisher).

But also, the people who would rally around points of entertainment as ways to terrorize minorities and women already got started nearly a decade ago, then moved on to larger political concerns. The time for handwringing about that was around the start of gamergate.
posted by dinty_moore at 9:38 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


That’s the nature of modern film franchises: market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption.

I wonder what Eraserhead would have ended up looking like after having undergone this process?
posted by fairmettle at 9:42 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


To be fair, there’s never been an iteration of the film industry in which Eraserhead was easy to make or distribute.
posted by argybarg at 9:59 PM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


What a load of crap.

Consider Shakespeare: his plays were absurdly formulaic with rehashed plots, circling around the cartoonish lives of royalty. As Scorsese might say, they were "made to satisfy a specific set of demands ... designed as variations on a finite number of themes."

Restrictions and difficulties do not prevent art. A "brutal and inhospitable" situation does not prevent art. There is no joy, curiosity or empathy in claiming something can't be art - only a closed perspective that misses whatever exciting thing is bubbling up in the periphery.
posted by lubujackson at 10:10 PM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]


They should just sponsor a study to see if Marvel films stunt children's emotional, social, and intellectual development. They tried doing this with novels and somewhat showed that only certain kinds of fiction can improve the reader's empathic reasoning. Just use science so people can't just shoot back with counteraccusations of elitism, cultural relativism, etc.

I'm willing to bet that some simple lab studies will demonstrate cognitive differences for the same reasons it happened with the complex novel studies. Not everything is objectively equivalent and this thesis can be demonstrated empirically.
posted by polymodus at 11:30 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


They should just sponsor a study to see if Marvel films stunt children's emotional, social, and intellectual development. They tried doing this with novels and somewhat showed that only certain kinds of fiction can improve the reader's empathic reasoning. Just use science so people can't just shoot back with counteraccusations of elitism, cultural relativism, etc.

I'm willing to bet that some simple lab studies will demonstrate cognitive differences for the same reasons it happened with the complex novel studies. Not everything is objectively equivalent and this thesis can be demonstrated empirically.


Very clever idea, Polymodus, but I'm afraid it's been done before:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seduction_of_the_Innocent
posted by Green Winnebago at 12:59 AM on November 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


grumpybear69: "Hallmark
buddy cop dramedy
oscar bait
my little pony
and Olsen Twinema
"

Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
posted by chavenet at 1:02 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


acrasis: " I once urged someone to watch Fellini's "7 1/2" and they embarrassedly didn't get it"

You win this thread.
posted by chavenet at 1:04 AM on November 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


Consider Shakespeare: his plays were absurdly formulaic with rehashed plots, circling around the cartoonish lives of royalty. As Scorsese might say, they were "made to satisfy a specific set of demands ... designed as variations on a finite number of themes."

Possibly, but when Shakespeare wrote Macbeth he didn't have anyone telling him that Macbeth couldn't die at the end because they had a whole trilogy mapped out including tie-ins to other plays.
posted by um at 1:13 AM on November 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


You know, reading people go on about Scorzese as some sort of genius auteur and film theorist gives me a strong flashback of Dawson going on and on about Spielberg, for like 4 seasons, and then he gets to film school and people are like, "Spielberg? Seriously?".

Not knocking either of them, they've made both made movies lots of people like, but the appeals to authority are a bit thin.

Also, Skorsese sort of backtracked while managing to somehow sneer at things young people enjoy.

The superhero films, as I’ve said, are another art form. They are not easy to make. There’s a lot of very talented people doing good work and a lot of young people really, really enjoy them.”
posted by signal at 2:25 AM on November 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


Fully agree with Mr. Scorsese...
But it is not only Marvel most movies today are commercial projects first of all rather art.
The aim is not only to create show but also to sell fun merch and things like it.
posted by ElliotChang at 2:38 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


Nintendo? Innovative? The company that's been producing games with the same characters yearly since 1982?

The company that stopped producing 2d Mario platform games on their home consoles in 1990 with Super Mario World because they'd done what they could, and next produced one in 1009 with New Super Mario Bros Wii and whose only 2d Mario platformers since 2012 have been letting the players design the levels. The company that generally produces only one game in any given series per console generation (which is why we are only up to Mario Kart 8 Dx and Smash 5). The company producing the Labo, Ring Fit Adventure, and the one whose idea of a multiplayer shooter is Splatoon.

I'd be fine with Marvel movies if it were also possible to make mid-budget movies for adults. But it isn't.

This makes as much sense as "I'd be fine with pet dogs if there were flocks of crows. But there aren't." There are mid-budget movies for adults - with JoJo Rabbit, Joker, The Aeronauts, and Zombieland: Double-Tap all currently being at the cinema I checked as compared to the *checks notes* zero Marvel films currently playing. Mid-budget ($10-80 million) movies can be and are clearly being made and there are a lot more of them than there are Marvel movies (as there ought to be). I'll agree that there aren't enough of them, but claiming it's impossible to make them is false and Marvel movies aren't to blame for there not being enough.

But if you're going to say that there's no distinction to be drawn between formulaic fantasy books and great writing, I think you're wrong.

And this is a straw-man. Scorsese is claiming that Marvel movies aren't cinema. If you say that the most formulaic paint by numbers media tie-in fantasy books aren't books then you are clearly and objectively wrong.

The Star Wars prequels are infinitely more interesting than any Marvel movie.

I disagree strongly. I'd say that any one Marvel movie is more interesting than any one of the Star Wars prequels. The problem is that almost any three Marvel movies aren't that much more interesting between them than any one of them is on its own. The exceptions are the fish-out-of-water films of The Winter Soldier and Thor: Ragnarok, the two Guardians of the Galaxy movies, and arguably all five Avengers movies (counting Civil War as the fifth) which lean on the other films for a lot of their character work.
posted by Francis at 3:04 AM on November 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


> "... when Shakespeare wrote Macbeth he didn't have anyone telling him that Macbeth couldn't die at the end because they had a whole trilogy mapped out including tie-ins to other plays."

It is widely believed that Shakespeare was forced by royal command to take a character he was planning to kill off and make him fall in love in a sequel that had to be written in fourteen days.

Just sayin'.
posted by kyrademon at 3:12 AM on November 6, 2019 [11 favorites]


I say this as somebody who's enjoyed some superhero movies, I'm no film snob... but it's kind of appalling to think about all the classic films that just could not get made now because they don't fit that very specific blockbuster franchise model.

Serious question: when you say "classic films" you're thinking of things like Casablanca and Citizen Kane and The Third Man and stuff like that, right?

....Do you think that back in the 1940s and 50s when those films came out, that that was all there was?

Those were classic films that came out then, but there was boring crap back then too. From Here To Eternity and Shane came out in 1953, but so did Robot Monster andAbbot and Costello Go To Mars. The only thing that graces one film with the title "classic" is time and audience reaction; and those "classic films" appeared at the same time as a lot of other cheap and cheerful formulaic forgettable dreck back in their time too. And those formulaic forgettable dreck films were being released because they also fit a very specific moneymaking franchise model. And sometimes those specific moneymaking franchise model films themselves were good enough and beloved enough that they became "classics" themselves.

The difficulty that modern filmmakers isn't solely a matter of "how can we get this film made" - although, this is less of a problem than you can imagine - but more so a matter of "how can we get this film in front of people who may want to see it." That's actually been the bigger change over the years - back in the 40s and 50s, nay even up into the 70s and 80s, if you wanted to see a movie you went to a movie theater, and that was your only option. Movie houses had their audiences locked in, because most people like to go to the movies, so no matter what they put up on the screens, someone would come see it. The smaller films maybe only ended up in one small house, but they had their fans who'd come see it. Today, though, you have the home-video market, so movie fans have the option of just saying "meh, I'm just gonna stay home and watch it there." And that's why movie houses want to make sure that they get butts in seats, and that's why they are focusing on the bigger-budget guaranteed moneymakers.

The profusion of moviehouses showing the big-budget stuff is a symptom, not a cause.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:08 AM on November 6, 2019 [6 favorites]


I think Scorsese is to some extent correct in remarking on a surfeit of artlessly made films within the superhero genre. The problem is that this critique shouldn't include just superhero films, but as others here have noted, Star Wars, and essentially all mega-budget films. How could it be otherwise? For films to have to make back hundreds of millions of dollars, they can't appeal to a niche auteurial aesthetic. They're required to check off boxes that will make them comfort food consumption for wide audiences.

For example, often with these types of films you'll be sitting in the theater, and the film is chugging along, and suddenly you pop out of the moment because of the random glamour-lit presence of someone like FAN Bingbing, just long enough for a couple of closeups and clunky lines. Objectively it's absolutely a good thing that films have diverse casting but when someone is clearly only present in the film for 10 minutes so she can appear on the poster in the international markets, it serves as a cynical reminder that you're watching extruded product. You could chalk it off as yet another annoying celebrity cameo, but it feels more like a corporate edict than say, Stan Lee in his obligatory shot or John Ratzenberger voicing a Pixar character as a kind of Easter Egg to the audience.

Speaking of Pixar, great if you enjoyed the Toy Story franchise, but I'd argue that the same issue of remake disguised as sequel mentioned by Scorsese is true with those films as well. In what fundamental ways have the characters changed after four movies? Perhaps part of the benefit to their being toys is that, unlike human beings, we rather expect them to remain unchanged over time, just like our old childhood companions. Similar to a horror genre series flick, each iteration of the characters shows them with the same strengths and weaknesses, making the same mistakes, and finding themselves in the same kinds of set pieces, film after film. Sure, it's good old Woody, stalwart Woody, faithful Tom Hanks, er, Woody, just a folksy, loyal American toy for an American boy. The audience doesn't want him to change, but more to the point, the studio doesn't want him to change either.

So expanding his complaint past the superhero genre, I think that Scorsese is right that paint-by-numbers movies have gobbled up the lion's share of the box office. But, so what? He laments that the type of artistically challenging films he cherishes are no longer shown on the big screen but are relegated to living rooms, or I guess tablets. But how is that different from say early 20th century musicians lamenting their gradual expulsion from high society drawing rooms and banquet halls due to the explosion of recorded music? Or maybe cave artists lamenting that their dank audience has bled away over time thanks to the invention of those newfangled "houses"? In reality there is by a wide margin more moving picture art being created in the superhero film era than at any point in history. The exhibition venues have changed, but that's only a sad thing if you believe that the particular means and methods of creating and exhibiting art in your heyday are intrinsically the most valid ways for art to be made and shown.
posted by xigxag at 5:10 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


I think Scorsese is to some extent correct in remarking on a surfeit of artlessly made films within the superhero genre.

I wonder what Scorsese would think of Mr. Robot? Because it's produced for the mass market, but is definitely art.
posted by mikelieman at 6:10 AM on November 6, 2019


I'm fascinated by the art vs. not-art-mass-market-corporate-whatever distinction people keep wanting to draw.

In what way is John Williams' 1984 Olympics fanfare categorically different from his music written for Star Wars [1]? Or for that matter how are either categorically different and not-art compared to Beethoven's 3th Symphony?

How, precisely, does being paid by Archduke Rudolph make Beethoven's 3rd Symphony art, while being paid by 20th Century FOX makes John Williams' Star Wars theme not-art?

How, precisely, do we define Duchamp's Fountain as art, while defining Avengers as not-art? What is the distinction? What are the criteria?

Is Michelangelo's David not-art because it's just another rehash of a pop culture reference paid for by the government to promote civic pride? If not, how is it categorically different from a mural painted by some local artist paid by the Podunk AK city government? What makes one art and the other not-art?

I don't think anyone here, or Scorsese for that matter, can develop an actual definition or criteria for art that will include Fountain, Piss Christ, Blow UP, and David, but exclude Avengers, a mass produced Mickey Mouse statuette, the JiffyLube ad jingle, and the bland civic art in the Amarillo TX city hall.

You can argue that you prefer one over the other. You can argue that one is better art than the other. But trying to argue that one is art while the other is not is something I've never seen done successfully.

It looks a lot like a more snobby version of the low brow sneering at Pollock to me. "Ha, that's not art, my kid could make that!" vs "ha that's not art Disney paid for it!"

[1] Which surely fits Scorsese's not-cinema mere audiovisual entertainment to be sneered at category.
posted by sotonohito at 6:30 AM on November 6, 2019 [7 favorites]


I think we need to understand something important: Marvel is not a genre. Marvel is a studio, and effectively it's an auteur. So when Scorsese says that Marvel movies are not cinema, he's not saying that superhero movies are not cinema. "Superhero" is a genre -- and "Marvel" isn't. You could make a superhero movie that fit Scorsese's definition of cinema, but Marvel probably wouldn't, because it goes against their business model, which is to produce a film in a set house style that will satisfy the audiences who come to see their type of film. You already know this is true -- why else would there be any question, at all, about whether Marvel would make a third Deadpool movie? Deadpool has made something like a billion dollars now! Just the idea that you might not make another one seems insane, until you realize THAT'S how seriously Marvel takes their brand identity. There isn't a lot of room in there for the surprises at the core of human experience or what have you, okay? And this is what Scorsese's talking about.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:53 AM on November 6, 2019 [6 favorites]


I don't think anyone here, or Scorsese for that matter, can develop an actual definition or criteria for art that will include Fountain, Piss Christ, Blow UP, and David, but exclude Avengers, a mass produced Mickey Mouse statuette, the JiffyLube ad jingle, and the bland civic art in the Amarillo TX city hall.

kittens for breakfast already sorta covered this, but Scorsese seems pretty clear that he considers the creative vision and control over the work by the artist as artist to be a determining factor of difference. I don't know about the Amarillo city hall, but there is a difference in the role of the artist between the items mentioned. Of course that too is dependent on how one first frames the work and understanding of it, I mean the difference between Duchamp's urinal and another one isn't going to be accepted as any difference at all to some and that then becomes the next bone of contention.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:04 AM on November 6, 2019


Pre-emptive apologies because I can sense that the devils'-advocate traits I inherited from my father are acting up now. :-)

kittens for breakfast already sorta covered this, but Scorsese seems pretty clear that he considers the creative vision and control over the work by the artist as artist to be a determining factor of difference.

The counter-argument here is that Ed Wood had total creative vision and control over his own work; does that make Plan 9 from Outer Space "art"?

(I mean, I would say yes, but for very different reasons than I think you're thinking.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:08 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


The counter-argument here is that Ed Wood had total creative vision and control over his own work; does that make Plan 9 from Outer Space "art"?

I don’t think Scorsese would quibble at all with calling that art, for the numerous reasons he lays out in the piece.
posted by sallybrown at 7:18 AM on November 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


It would, I suspect, depend again on how one is using the word "art", whether as a merit based, in only certain works of excellence can achieve the status sort of sense or the work of a creator who is placing some personal vision onscreen. In the latter sense it probably would be closer than what Scorsese is speaking of in regards to Marvel movies, but in terms of craft it may not be thought of in the same sense. I can't say what he might think about that, but I personally think there are reasons to hold it is a better example of art than many superhero movies, but maybe not all since I think there is some open space regarding how some of the movies have managed to show some more personal reads, even as the story lines often work against it.

For me, it's a really difficult distinction to make because there is much within many of the movies that sort of works like other "art" films in how information, visual or otherwise, is relayed to the audience and how that relates to any sense of deeper "meaning" or purpose to the work one might take away from it other than the facts of character action and event, the surface basics more or less. My big problem with so many of the superhero movies is that the films actively work to ultimately deny any real meaning while purposefully alluding to some possible contradictory perspectives one might latch on to as a read of the film. They're ideal for the meme age of sharing moments in that way, but almost always fail to cohere into a greater whole in any significant sense, with some being pretty brazen about doing that as a way to draw viewers without really committing to anything. A very corporate attitude.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:23 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


The Sistine Chapel: painted by a bunch of for-hire painters, under strict corporate mandate as to style and content, including a series of portraits of current and past CEOs. So, not art, right?
posted by signal at 7:23 AM on November 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


Walt Disney World resort: art or not?
posted by sallybrown at 7:26 AM on November 6, 2019


I gotta say the repeated reductionism in the discussion is kinda tiresome since the topic really offers a lot more than trying to pare everything down to the most base level definitions or as proof none such can exist. But if that makes people happy I guess go for it.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:31 AM on November 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


Do people really think that people who hold a distinction between art and entertainment will be stunned to find that there are exceptions and ambiguities in the distinction?
posted by argybarg at 7:35 AM on November 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


Defining art is fun, but it isn't relevant to the subject, which is cinema, as clearly defined by Scorsese. Is Scorsese's definition of cinema the only possible definition of cinema? Of course not. Is it what he's talking about? Yes. Is it what you're talking about? No.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:37 AM on November 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


For that matter, take David. The piece we see and call David is not the work of a single artist working on their personal vision. It's the end product of a team effort, sculpture by committee in effect, and all done under government contract with the government specifying what they wanted. Three different people worked on that statue, Michelangelo was only the person to finish it and he didn't have full control of what the sculpture was to be or even its subject matter.

So is David not-art by the Scorsese definition?
posted by sotonohito at 7:38 AM on November 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


No.
posted by argybarg at 7:39 AM on November 6, 2019


If David was reproduced 10 times and given different names, would the 10th copy be art in the same way the first one was?
posted by Space Coyote at 7:40 AM on November 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


It strikes me that a "big tent" approach to "what is art" makes sense on a number of fronts - it still lets you dislike a thing, for whatever reason, but doesn't run the risk of pissing off fans of that thing by implying that not only do you not like it, but that it isn't even art. It incorporates all the various definitions people have had, and lets us move on.

Different question:

My big problem with so many of the superhero movies is that the films actively work to ultimately deny any real meaning while purposefully alluding to some possible contradictory perspectives one might latch on to as a read of the film. They're ideal for the meme age of sharing moments in that way, but almost always fail to cohere into a greater whole in any significant sense, with some being pretty brazen about doing that as a way to draw viewers without really committing to anything.

This is a sincere question: I'm not entirely certain what you mean by this. Can you clarify? I was about to respond to your claim that superhero movies "actively work to deny any real meaning", because I can point to several people who have and do find meaning in superhero films - but I want to be sure that I understand your actual point first, and I"m afraid I don't quite understand just yet. Largely because of sleep deprivation. :-)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:41 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


It's not that there are a few exceptions and ambiguities to the distinction, it's that the distinction is itself meaningless, pedantic and elitist, as well as largely settled as irrelevant many, many decades ago.
posted by signal at 7:42 AM on November 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


There’s a whole lot of people in this room determined to not understand Scorsese’s point, and to use endless sophistry to (they think) defeat it.

If you think you’ve defeated Scorsese, congratulations — you have. You and the vast majority of American popular culture may now continue with your victory lap.

Or is there something more you require?
posted by argybarg at 7:42 AM on November 6, 2019 [9 favorites]


Do people really think that people who hold a distinction between art and entertainment will be stunned to find that there are exceptions and ambiguities in the distinction?

The point is that the more exceptions and ambiguities pile up, the more it looks like the distinction is just gatekeeping based on personal preference, and not an actual distinction worth noting.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:43 AM on November 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


Argybarg, can you tell us in your own words what you understand Scorsese's point to be?

I have my own ideas, but my arguments have not been to dispute Scorsese, more to suggest that he perhaps is laying the blame for the current state of affairs in the wrong place.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:44 AM on November 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


There’s a whole lot of people in this room determined to defend Scorsese’s point, and to use endless sophistry to (they think) support it.

If you think you’ve defended Scorsese, congratulations — you have. You and the vast majority of American art culture may now continue with your victory lap.

Or is there something more you require?
posted by Pendragon at 7:45 AM on November 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


Have you thought about just reading the article
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:45 AM on November 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


Have you thought about just reading the article

We have, and we disagree. That's the thing about discourse - nobody is obligated to just agree with a position because it's given. And at least for me personally, I tend to find claims that one's opposition "just doesn't get it" to be concessions of the point.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:48 AM on November 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


My reading of what Scorsese is saying:

Cinema, when it’s treated as an artform, has the chance to bring you surprise, challenge, revelation, new human experiences, ambiguity — everything great art can bring to your life. The Marvel movies squander the talents of filmmakers in making something explicitly designed to be easy and acceptable to mass audiences. There’s no risk, no surprise, no revelation.

Pauline Kael beat that same drum for years, and she had no truck with high/low art — she just wanted to write about a vital artform, not product. But everyone hated her, too, so I’ll be over here.
posted by argybarg at 7:50 AM on November 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


Pendragon:

It’s true, us art snobs have a real stranglehold on American life.
posted by argybarg at 7:51 AM on November 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


Endless Sophistry is my film-school dropout band, currently on tour supporting our debut album Art Culture Victory Lapdog.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:52 AM on November 6, 2019 [7 favorites]


We have, and we disagree. That's the thing about discourse - nobody is obligated to

I'm speaking in reference to, specifically, comments like, "my arguments are not to dispute Scorsese," which I mean, is fine, but -- no offense -- in the context of this conversation, who cares? This thread is about the article. If you're like, "Well, cool, but here's what I think it should be about," and what you're saying is kind of trite stuff about What's Art, Man?? and not the article, which is actually much more interesting than what you're talking about, then I have to conclude you haven't read the article, because if you had, you would know that what you were saying was pretty featherweight in comparison and not say it.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:53 AM on November 6, 2019 [10 favorites]


Scorsese says, near the end so you know he's sort of summing up:

"The situation, sadly, is that we now have two separate fields: There’s worldwide audiovisual entertainment, and there’s cinema. "


That's the bullshit some people, including me, are reacting to.

Re-reading the piece, I see a man nearing the end of his life lamenting that the world is changing around him. This is not novel, and only gets any attention because of said man's previous accomplishments.

We could probably find a tablet in Linear-B making a similar argument about the lack of artistry and excessive commercialization in the clay vases the younguns are putting out these days.
posted by signal at 7:54 AM on November 6, 2019 [7 favorites]


I genuinely find it interesting how provocative the argument that “something you find entertaining isn’t art” is. It’s perfectly valid to engage in things and deeply enjoy, down to your soul, things that aren’t art. It’s not like, “either this is art or it’s GARBAGE.” Do we not value things that are purely vectors for entertainment? If Scorsese didn’t think (correctly or incorrectly) that the Marvel films were crowding out “cinema,” he would not be talking about them as destructive—he’s not saying their status as “not cinema” is what makes them harmful.
posted by sallybrown at 7:55 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


sotonohito: "So is David not-art by the Scorsese definition?"

Well, David is not-cinema.
posted by chavenet at 7:56 AM on November 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


Do you honestly, in your heart, think that my stance (or Scorsese’s) is that “either this is art or it’s GARBAGE”? Do you truly think that is a good-faith characterization?
posted by argybarg at 7:57 AM on November 6, 2019


Your Mom's Mac-n-Cheese made $400B at the box office this weekend.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:58 AM on November 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


Do you honestly, in your heart, think that my stance (or Scorsese’s) is that “either this is art or it’s GARBAGE”? Do you truly think that is a good-faith characterization?

I was not referencing your comment at all, and in fact was saying that that statement is not the argument anyone (Scorsese included) is making.
posted by sallybrown at 7:59 AM on November 6, 2019


Sorry, understood now.
posted by argybarg at 8:00 AM on November 6, 2019


Signal:

There have been dead periods in artforms. The fact that an Old Person says something is in bad shape doesn’t automatically mean it isn’t.
posted by argybarg at 8:01 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


Do you honestly, in your heart, think that my stance (or Scorsese’s) is that “either this is art or it’s GARBAGE”? Do you truly think that is a good-faith characterization?

Yes, because of the long, ignoble history of gatekeeping in art and how it's been used to demean and ghettoize many various forms of media from being recognized as art. That history doesn't go away because it's inconvenient for your argument, and part of holding this discussion in good faith is acknowledging it.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:04 AM on November 6, 2019 [6 favorites]


What about emotional risk? What about the risk of disappointment, of having your expectations not met: Endgame made sure that as many people as possible got their fanservice delivered. If that movie caused you to hope for a thing, it was because it intended to deliver that thing either five minutes later or in the big setpiece at the end. There is no risk of being wrong about what will happen. There is no risk that the film will put you in an emotional state you didn't expect to be in.

The same is true of Shakespeare's comedies and tragedies.
posted by Gelatin at 8:06 AM on November 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


You truly feel that Shakespeare’s plays had the same level of emotional surprise and insight as the Marvel movies?
posted by argybarg at 8:10 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


argybarg: I think many of us read further on to what Scorsese went on to say, which I quote here:
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.

That includes me, and I’m speaking as someone who just completed a picture for Netflix. It, and it alone, allowed us to make “The Irishman” the way we needed to, and for that I’ll always be thankful. We have a theatrical window, which is great. Would I like the picture to play on more big screens for longer periods of time? Of course I would. But no matter whom you make your movie with, the fact is that the screens in most multiplexes are crowded with franchise pictures.

And if you’re going to tell me that it’s simply a matter of supply and demand and giving the people what they want, I’m going to disagree. It’s a chicken-and-egg issue. If people are given only one kind of thing and endlessly sold only one kind of thing, of course they’re going to want more of that one kind of thing.

But, you might argue, can’t they just go home and watch anything else they want on Netflix or iTunes or Hulu? Sure — anywhere but on the big screen, where the filmmaker intended her or his picture to be seen.

In the past 20 years, as we all know, the movie business has changed on all fronts. But the most ominous change has happened stealthily and under cover of night: the gradual but steady elimination of risk. Many films today are perfect products manufactured for immediate consumption. Many of them are well made by teams of talented individuals. All the same, 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.
Scorsese is not arguing on behalf of "art" or "cinema" as a pure champion of the form. His complaint, as he himself says, is being prompted by access to the films in theaters. If this were the 70s and we didn't have the home video market or streaming services, and everyone was still going to see films in theaters, he probably wouldn't even be fussed about the superhero movies, because the people going to see the films he makes would also be going to movies, right alongside the superhero movie fans. Just like the people who went to see Godfather in one theater while other people went to go see The Poseidon Adventure (a formulaic film of the kind he's decrying) or Conquest of the Planet Of The Apes (a formulaic sequel of the kind he's decrying).

Our argument is that Scorsese is looking at the current state of affairs - namely, that theaters are more likely to be showing films pitched at the mass-market audiences than they are smaller fare - but that he is drawing the wrong conclusion about the cause of such a state of affairs, because he is overlooking the fact that this kind of mass-market stuff has also existed alongside his own work, and has always existed. Before, it didn't have an impact on him. Now it does (he said what he said largely because he was frustrated that his film The Irishman is getting a limited theatrical release before going to streaming on Netflix, and he wants more people to see it on the big screen). But instead of recognizing that "there have always been a range of films for different tastes but now the theaters have to be more choosy because there is now a home video market, and that is why The Irishman is getting stuck in streaming", he went straight to "superhero movies aren't true art".

And - again - he wouldn't have even said "superhero movies aren't true art" in the first place if he had been able to screen his own film in more theaters. He's not saying this to be a True Defender Of Aesthetics, he's saying this because he's cranky that people are going to be watching his stuff on Hulu. He's got just as much of an agenda as MCU.

Do you honestly, in your heart, think that my stance (or Scorsese’s) is that “either this is art or it’s GARBAGE”? Do you truly think that is a good-faith characterization?

Not necessarily, but I do find comparing one's self to Paulene Kael and making quips like "It’s true, us art snobs have a real stranglehold on American life" to be a little...martyr-ish?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:13 AM on November 6, 2019 [10 favorites]


argybarg: There have been dead periods in artforms.

Right. And cinema is in the middle of a creative explosion, a golden age brought about by the reduction of the entry barriers for filmmakers, the ease of distribution, the rising middle class in previous poor parts of world and the increasing validation of diverse viewpoints from people historically segregated because of their race, culture, ethnicity, sex, gender and orientation. So I don't really see what your point is.
posted by signal at 8:14 AM on November 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos:

I could be in the minority and wrong, that's true. And you're right, my tone is getting a little lugubrious.
posted by argybarg at 8:16 AM on November 6, 2019


The same is true of Shakespeare's comedies and tragedies.

My experience with the tragedies is they get me to want one thing and then deliver a knife to the heart instead.
posted by sallybrown at 8:17 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


NoxAeternum:

For the record, I believe James Brown's "Cold Sweat" is on par with any music, dead European classical included. I think there's insane amounts of exciting and daring works in popular culture; you'll find great stuff anywhere. So if you think I think that only the European canon of recognized Great Works is of value, that's not my stance at all.

What I don't hold truck with is the more radical stance that anything anyone likes, or might like, is of equal value with anything anyone else likes — that it's just a million little isolated judgements, and that's the best we can hope for.

Issues of distribution aside, I don't think there's anything wrong with valuing challenging and adventurous works a bit more highly that we (collectively) do. I've heard "I don't always want to see Citizen Kane, sometimes I just want to turn my brain off" presented as if it were a surprising idea, or counter to something else. The people who don't think that's what movies are for are a rounding error, in my experience — not here, but generally.

But if our stance is "there's only what you like, and what I like, and nothing else to say" — there's no way out of that. It just puts us in product-land in perpetuity. Because you need communities of moviegoers who are passionate and care and speak up; that's what makes an artform tick.

And by the way: 2016-17 brought us Moonlight, Get Out, OJ: Made in America and I Am Not Your Negro, each one a flat-out masterpiece and total validation of the idea that if you give control to African-American filmmakers something profound and authentically new will happen. If history is fair, it will look on that quartet of movies as a major step in cinema.
posted by argybarg at 8:26 AM on November 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


You truly feel that Shakespeare’s plays had the same level of emotional surprise and insight as the Marvel movies?

Emotional surprise? Absolutely. When one went to a tragedy, one knew everyone would wind up dead; when one went to a comedy, everyone would end up married. And the performers went out of one's way to make sure the audience knew which they were watching and what they could expect. There was no risk of being put in an emotional state the audience didn't expect to be in.

The original comment never said anything about insight, just emotional surprise, and the point stands that one can lack emotional surprise and still be considered great art centuries later. Probably emotional insight has a lot to do with that.

My experience with the tragedies is they get me to want one thing and then deliver a knife to the heart instead.

Of course they do, but the knife to the heart isn't a surprise. Going into King Lear, say, one knows it's a tragedy, and so not only will it not end well, but the main character's fatal flaw will be the cause of it. One may dearly wish this foolish old man not make the mistakes he makes, or that his mistakes not have the disastrous consequences they do, but by the first scene one knows full well what will do the poor king in.
posted by Gelatin at 8:27 AM on November 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


I could be in the minority and wrong, that's true.

See, that's just it - I wouldn't say that there is such a thing as "right" or "wrong" in matters of taste in the first place. There is "what I like" and "what I don't like", and "what you like" and "what you don't like". You may be in the minority when it comes to "what you like" (and in may cases I'm likely there with you), but I wouldn't say you're "wrong" about your taste.

Unless I've totally misunderstood what you mean when you say that you're "wrong", in which case never mind. :-)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:28 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


You already know this is true -- why else would there be any question, at all, about whether Marvel would make a third Deadpool movie? Deadpool has made something like a billion dollars now! Just the idea that you might not make another one seems insane, until you realize THAT'S how seriously Marvel takes their brand identity.

Deadpool 3: Disney Has Signed Off on R-Rated Sequels, Writers Say
posted by mstokes650 at 8:28 AM on November 6, 2019


argybarg: What I don't hold truck with is the more radical stance that anything anyone likes, or might like, is of equal value with anything anyone else likes.

That's good, because nobody here has said anything remotely like that.
posted by signal at 8:30 AM on November 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


argybarg: What I don't hold truck with is the more radical stance that anything anyone likes, or might like, is of equal value with anything anyone else likes.

That's good, because nobody here has said anything remotely like that.


Counterpoint:

Not every meal has to be from a three star Michelin kitchen. The mac and cheese your mom makes is just as valid.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:32 AM on November 6, 2019


Empress:

No, I don't mean wrong in our taste. I mean wrong about our basic stances. Which I suspect don't differ as much as we're making it seem.
posted by argybarg at 8:36 AM on November 6, 2019


The real question is if the Trader Joe's frozen mac 'n' cheese is just as valid as the three-star Michelin meal. Your mother might put a lot of care and expertise into her mac and cheese.
posted by argybarg at 8:41 AM on November 6, 2019


The framing is unfortunate, since Scorsese was specifically asked about the MCU and that's how he's continued to respond. Instead talking about franchise films as a dominant filmic form is probably more productive, and even the boosters of that form here would have a hard time arguing that the franchise model has warping effects on the entirety of the mainstream film industry due to how attractive the billion dollar paydays (before merchandising) are. To say "well this is just what happens with forms of media" is true in a trivial sense, and in fact supports Scorsese's claim, which is that he sees it happening at the expense of the type of film he's worked to champion and is concerned. The idea that this is gatekeeping is true insofar as trying to keep a wolf from the door is gate keeping, and Scorsese isn't really in a position of power compared to Franchise Film (and specifically its major driver - Disney). The huge overblown reaction to a single answer to an interview question and then an op-ed clarifying that answer is evidence more of fan insecurity than it is of some old boy network elitism - especially when a lot of the old boys are the ones driving franchise films and profiting from that model. It's the classic nerd fallacy that despite how powerful and influential their fetish becomes it's always defacto the underdog simply because it's tied to their own underdog identity.
posted by codacorolla at 8:47 AM on November 6, 2019 [9 favorites]


No, I don't mean wrong in our taste. I mean wrong about our basic stances. Which I suspect don't differ as much as we're making it seem.

I mean, I still disagree with you about this:

What I don't hold truck with is the more radical stance that anything anyone likes, or might like, is of equal value with anything anyone else likes — that it's just a million little isolated judgements, and that's the best we can hope for.

I do actually believe that anything that anyone likes, or might like, is of equal value with anything anyone else likes - if we are speaking strictly about purely aesthetic validity. If all things were equal, and there were universal access to all art across all platforms in whatever format one chooses to engage, then yes, I still do believe that the things that I like and the things that you like and the things that my nephew likes and the things that my co-worker likes are indeed all of equal value.

But the whole thing that touched all this off is that we are not living in a society in which there is universal access to all art across all platforms. You're not wrong that the moneymakers are getting more screen time, and the smaller films are getting short shrift at the multiplexes. And I agree with you that that is a problem.

However, where we disagree is in the source of that problem. The source of that problem (namely, the more "intellectual" films getting short shrift at theaters) isn't a matter of snobbery, or of one type of film being "not art" and another being "art", or what have you. The source of that problem is late-stage capitalism forcing theaters to stack the decks in order to get as many butts in seats as they can. Some do so with all kinds of bells-and-whistles in the moviegoing experience (full meals at your seat! Giveaways! 3-D!), others do so by looking at what kinds of films get the biggest box office draws; and right now, the superhero movies are the guaranteed moneymakers. Wanting to present the quality art is one thing; but the theater managers also need to be sure they're making enough to pay the licenses for screening and buying the popcorn and paying their workers and all that kind of stuff, and it's gotten harder to do that in an era when lots of people are saying "eh, we'll just stay home and stream it."

Claiming that one movie or another is "less challenging" doesn't do as much to encourage that the films you prefer get screened so much as "let's figure out how to support independent movie theaters" does. Rather than hammering out the definition of "art", we should be hammering out a better distribution business model, is my thinking.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:58 AM on November 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


Regarding the snobbier-than-thou crowd: I'm much to much of a snob to allow Scorsese to define what is and isn't cinema or art.
posted by signal at 9:01 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


This is a sincere question: I'm not entirely certain what you mean by this. Can you clarify?

I mean that the movies tend to either skew their worlds to make them significantly different than our own in ways that render the actions of the characters more difficult to assess by real world conditions and thus more open to wide varieties of interpretation based on what one brings in to the films, like when, as one little example US Secretary of State, General Ross, willingly ceding control to the UN and ordering Captain America to comply, leaving Cap going rogue in defiance of that order able to be as easily read as acting against a the conservative bugaboo of "one world order" as much as standing up for a liberal worldview as just one of the many conflicting simplifications involved in that conflict.

And/or that the movies give their characters and situations that are dual coded to allow them to be read one way by some audience members and another way by others by relying heavily on allusion while being coy with explicit statement. Black Panther goes out of its way to not only not challenge unaware white audiences, but to offer some comfort to them in how it presents its conflict between Killmonger and Black Panther and the history behind it that has some meaningful reflection to the real world. That's some ingenious filmmaking in some sense, but its also risk averse in another and has led to some question over different ways it can be interpreted, with some black scholars finding its use of history troubling among other things, even as it obviously has great meaning to many others.

That also goes to the larger meta issue of Disney's relationship to the audience and what that means for representation and other things. There was mention above, for example, of how notable it was that movies like Captain Marvel were released given how they show women as heroes, but that's like crediting the Supreme Intelligence for Captain Marvel's powers in the movie. Disney, and their brother major movie studios, have been the ones who have kept pushing women down over the decades, giving them credit when, after extensive pressure, they finally make a superhero movie about a woman shows how much of the market and fandom they've captured, and that's ignoring the very idea that it needs to be a superhero movie that somehow proves worthiness, as if all the other movies that women have made don't count for as much because only blockbusters really matter, something that speaks to an audience problem as much as a studio one, which I think Scorsese hopes isn't as true as it appears to be.

There's many more things like that involving how they handle wealth, morality, and all sorts of other character issues that can read in contradictory manners, but some of that too is also given difficulty in legibility because events are almost endlessly deferred from assessing any final reading as they play over so many different films, made by different people/"architects" and over such a long time. One of the key ingredients of the current entertainment market is just that, to draw out the "worlds" as long as possible without conclusion to keep people coming back for more, that's something that can have an artistic price. (Sometimes, though, more amusingly as in how the Russos seemed to enjoy undercutting the ever annoying Peter Quill character.)
posted by gusottertrout at 9:03 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


I do actually believe that anything that anyone likes, or might like, is of equal value with anything anyone else likes - if we are speaking strictly about purely aesthetic validity.

So, Birth of a nation and Triumph of the will? Love those aesthetics!
posted by No Robots at 9:06 AM on November 6, 2019


- I wouldn't say that there is such a thing as "right" or "wrong" in matters of taste in the first place.

a friend of mine has infected me with a way of looking at music (pop etc). Basically, he argues that nobody knows anything about a song beyond what they like or don't like about it ... for about fifteen years. After fifteen years, we kind of know. Regardless of how mindf***ingly essential SONG may have seemed at the time, play it now and it just sounds kind of unnecessary. Which is not to say to that it didn't speak to the cultural back-and-forth of its moment, perhaps profoundly. But to hear it now, overall, it just feels like a distraction. Not challenging, not engaging, not even any fun. I'd say that qualifies it as failing ... maybe not as art (what the hell is art!?) but certainly as an enduring cultural reflection.

I suspect the same probably applies to movies (or cinema, if you wish), and a quick look at 2004 reveals ... not a lot of superhero action, that's for sure.
posted by philip-random at 9:07 AM on November 6, 2019


And cinema is in the middle of a creative explosion, a golden age brought about by the reduction of the entry barriers for filmmakers...

Maybe so, but will anyone see it? Will it get picked up for distribution or will it be shuffled off into the corner of some streaming service because it didn't contain enough Capes McPunchman?

All the talk of art-world elitism doesn't address that the mainstream is THE gatekeeper. It trades in cultural attention and only metes out the barest amount for works that fall outside it's range of acceptability. For every thing that the mainstream buoys many more are buried. The currency of respectability (ie: art v. not art), as conferred by the art elites, doesn't have much value in this contemporary landscape and is a bit of a misdirection. The question at hand is one of access and at what scale.
posted by wordless reply at 9:07 AM on November 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


Claiming that one movie or another is "less challenging" doesn't do as much to encourage that the films you prefer get screened so much as "let's figure out how to support independent movie theaters" does. Rather than hammering out the definition of "art", we should be hammering out a better distribution business model, is my thinking.

Unless you make an argument for the importance of challenging films, why would anyone care if they went away?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:10 AM on November 6, 2019


I mean that the movies tend to either skew their worlds to make them significantly different than our own in ways that render the actions of the characters more difficult to assess by real world conditions and thus more open to wide varieties of interpretation based on what one brings in to the films, like when, as one little example US Secretary of State, General Ross, willingly ceding control to the UN and ordering Captain America to comply, leaving Cap going rogue in defiance of that order able to be as easily read as acting against a the conservative bugaboo of "one world order" as much as standing up for a liberal worldview as just one of the many conflicting simplifications involved in that conflict.

That's fair; however, I would argue that it is also possible to regard such worlds as a metaphor, and to nevertheless draw real-world examples from them when it comes to things like integrity, commitment to one's own values, and suchlike.

I mean, you've pointed out how it's not realistic that the US Secretary of State willingly cedes control to the UN and orders Captain America to comply. But Captain America is ostensibly a chemically-enhanced supersoldier from the 1940s who has been re-awakened after cryogenic sleep in the Arctic, so we're already playing kind of fast and loose with "realism" here. (Granted, if that point also bugs you, then that's fair.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:12 AM on November 6, 2019


wordless reply are you actually positing that today, with vastly lower barriers to entry for people making movies, it's **HARDER** to make different and weird stuff? Literally anyone can grab a camera, edit their movie on a PC they picked up at Goodwill for $50, and put the result up on youtube or any of a dozen other services. In the past you had to be part of Hollywood's in crowd to even get access to a theater.
posted by sotonohito at 9:13 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


Unless you make an argument for the importance of challenging films, why would anyone care if they went away?

Is it not possible to make an argument for the importance of challenging films without belittling all other films?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:13 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


Empress:

We do have a legitimate difference then.

I think the artists who take a risk, and the people who support them, should be celebrated more highly than the industrial process that makes formulaic stuff. I don't mean that I value them and their works more highly. I mean that we, as a society, ought to place more value on their work.

Great art requires a great audience. If people generally think movies are just for unchallenging entertainment, that's what they'll get. If people think movies can be surprising, meaningful, risky and they seek out and reward those qualities, that's what they'll get. And I think the latter would be the better case.

It sounds like that's something you don't agree with, and so it goes.
posted by argybarg at 9:14 AM on November 6, 2019


Is it not possible to make an argument for the importance of challenging films without belittling all other films?

Probably not. But if not, then so what? No one's going to shame Marvel out of making movies. They'll be okay, I promise you.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:17 AM on November 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


I suspect the same probably applies to movies (or cinema, if you wish), and a quick look at 2004 reveals ... not a lot of superhero action, that's for sure.

So a, that was before the current superhero boom, that'd be like be surprised there aren't that many cowboys or musicals on there, and b, the first film on that list is a superhero movie. And honestly, a kind of creepy right-wing one in retrospect, thanks Brad Bird.

Will it get picked up for distribution or will it be shuffled off into the corner of some streaming service because it didn't contain enough Capes McPunchman?

What's more valuable; the audience that can get to an indie movie theater in select cities in the US - which has to hear about the film beforehand and feel comfortable entering the space, or global distribution on some streaming service, with kind of creepy algorithms helping push stuff to people who might actually enjoy it?
posted by dinty_moore at 9:18 AM on November 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


I think the artists who take a risk, and the people who support them, should be celebrated more highly than the industrial process that makes formulaic stuff. I don't mean that I value them and their works more highly. I mean that we, as a society, ought to place more value on their work.
Great art requires a great audience. If people generally think movies are just for unchallenging entertainment, that's what they'll get. If people think movies can be surprising, meaningful, risky and they seek out and reward those qualities, that's what they'll get.


See, even there, you're talking about financing as opposed to aesthetics. Based strictly on what you're saying here, it doesn't sound like you're allowing for the possibility that an "industrial product" can be just as "risky".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:18 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


Okay, good clarification. If you find a mega-studio making movies with some risk-taking and depth and insight, I'll celebrate them. That would be a great thing.
posted by argybarg at 9:20 AM on November 6, 2019


> Is it not possible to make an argument for the importance of challenging films without belittling all other films?

Probably not. But if not, then so what? No one's going to shame Marvel out of making movies.


No one's going to shame Marvel out of making movies, but these kinds of discussions are certainly shaming Marvel fans out of seeking out other movies because "sounds like those people think the fact that I really liked Spider Man means I"m too stupid for their other stuff, so fuck 'em."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:20 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


But if, as you say, everything is of equal aesthetic value, why bother? Just tally the figures.
posted by argybarg at 9:21 AM on November 6, 2019


so we're already playing kind of fast and loose with "realism" here. (Granted, if that point also bugs you, then that's fair.)

It's not so much a question of "realism" as the need for the metaphor to connect to something in the real for it to have coherence. Empty or confused metaphors are basically illegible or too open to hold any consistently meaningful value, which is basically the point of the exercise for them.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:25 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


But if, as you say, everything is of equal aesthetic value, why bother? ? Just tally the figures.

Because the dollar value of tickets sold =/= the inherent artistic worth of a film.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:25 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


What's this "inherent artistic worth" you're talking about? I honestly don't understand what you believe. You said just a few comments ago that there's only what you like vs. what I like and aesthetic judgements are impossible.
posted by argybarg at 9:27 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


with vastly lower barriers to entry for people making movies, it's **HARDER** to make different and weird stuff?

No, not at all. Making is much easier of course, getting seen is probably also easier than it was in the past though I think the improvement may be more incremental. And its better documented, which is a plus - by which I mean a copy of my dumb song on youtube now is more accessible than a 45 sitting in a crate someplace as it would have in previous eras. But I dunno. I feel like I've seen so many youtube channels, for example, with fantastic work and like 10s of views. If an art falls in the wood, and no one is around to see it...
posted by wordless reply at 9:29 AM on November 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


You said just a few comments ago that there's only what you like vs. what I like and aesthetic judgements are impossible.

I was pointing out that "just tally up the figures" was not a useful tool for judging whether one film is "artistically better" than another, precisely because when it comes to art there is no "worse" or "better," there is only what the individual likes and does not like. So "just tally up the figures" doesn't work as an arbiter, just like nothing else works either.

At least, that's what i was assuming you were getting at by saying "just tally up the figures." If I have misunderstood what you meant by saying that, please let me know.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:30 AM on November 6, 2019


That clarifies it. It tells me you really are taking up the radical skeptical viewpoint, which is a drag. But it's your right.
posted by argybarg at 9:32 AM on November 6, 2019


....That has not answered my question.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:33 AM on November 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


No one's going to shame Marvel out of making movies, but these kinds of discussions are certainly shaming Marvel fans out of seeking out other movies because "sounds like those people think the fact that I really liked Spider Man means I"m too stupid for their other stuff, so fuck 'em."

This is the opposite of the point Scorsese is trying to make—he wants the people whose local theater is filled with Marvel movies to be able to go to their local theater and see a wider variety of things, which he assumes they’ll want to participate in (because most of us like a variety of movies).
posted by sallybrown at 9:35 AM on November 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


Which question?
posted by argybarg at 9:36 AM on November 6, 2019


This is the opposite of the point Scorsese is trying to make—he wants the people whose local theater is filled with Marvel movies to be able to go to their local theater and see a wider variety of things, which he assumes they’ll want to participate in (because most of us like a variety of movies).

I know what point Scorsese is trying to make, my point is that the technique he is trying to use to make it is not working, precisely because it is backfiring in exactly that way.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:37 AM on November 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


And Argybarg, I'm going to memail with you because I think we're getting into "get a room" territory.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:37 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


The huge overblown reaction to a single answer to an interview question and then an op-ed clarifying that answer is evidence more of fan insecurity than it is of some old boy network elitism

I'm sorry, but this statement reflects such a profound ignorance of the way that artistic gatekeeping has been deployed throughout, well, most of recorded Western history that I hardly even know where to begin. When you dismiss something as not really art, you are invoking a force that has delegitimized and (tried to) erase pretty much everything not made by a handful of privileged white men for thousands of years. That's what has people's hackles up, even people like me who spend a lot of our free time engaging with the kind of art Scorsese would approve of. It's not only not a useful distinction when you're engaging in aesthetic judgment, it is a distinction that actively makes you a stupider and worse critic.
posted by praemunire at 10:06 AM on November 6, 2019 [10 favorites]


this statement reflects such a profound ignorance of the way that artistic gatekeeping has been deployed

This. Mischaracterizing the reaction as 'fanboys' or 'nerds' misses the fact that many, many, many of us are tired of being told what has value and what doesn't, what qualifies as art/cinema/music/literature in the first place and what doesn't.

It's about the whole Canon of Valid Culture as allowed by rich white males. (And yes, I get that Marvel and Disney are mostly RWM as well. That's not the point because Marvel and Disney are not the point).
posted by signal at 10:19 AM on November 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


When you dismiss something as not really art, you are invoking a force that has delegitimized and (tried to) erase pretty much everything not made by a handful of privileged white men for thousands of years.

Yes, which is why claiming that this is happening to the MCU franchise is absurd and offensive on its face.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:19 AM on November 6, 2019 [6 favorites]


I don't quite get the gatekeeping argument in regards to the specifics of what Scorsese is advocating. I mean I certainly understand it in a general or historical sense, but his point on this topic is more the opposite, with corporate capital being the gatekeeper that is potentially preventing broader artistic expression, his area of special interest, which can be better understood perhaps by looking at the list of films he's helped champion and get restored.

None of that is he's right about everything, just that I don't see him at all advocating for fewer artists working.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:21 AM on November 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


I mean I certainly understand it in a general or historical sense, but his point on this topic is more the opposite, with corporate capital being the gatekeeper that is potentially preventing broader artistic expression, his area of special interest, which can be better understood perhaps by looking at the list of films he's helped champion and get restored.

He's saying that corporate capital is the gatekeeper, but that the people being let THROUGH the gate are to blame for the existence OF corporate capital.

This is going to come across like a weird analogy, but: this is like looking at how there are more things designed for right-handed users than there are for left-handed users, but instead of looking at the designers of things and saying "Hey, you should design more things for lefties", you say "there's just way too many right-handed people buying things."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:32 AM on November 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yes, which is why claiming that this is happening to the MCU franchise is absurd and offensive on its face.

On the other hand pointing out once again (as if it needs pointing out) that the only time this argument should be deployed at all is when someone is performing deliberately experimental art and it is the artist themselves questioning or explicitly stating that it's not part of the canon. Jafar Panahi is perfectly free to say This Is Not A Film (or he wasn't free to say otherwise and that's part of the point behind the work) and from there people could argue either that it isn't or that it is. But no one else should be starting with the approach unless it is one the artist has deliberately opened up by intentionally pushing the boundaries hard.

And that Scorsese then chose to ignore the first rule of holes and write his op-ed means that the appropriate responses are to either ignore the entire fracas or to make the entire conversation about what sort of person would either advance or defend that approach.
posted by Francis at 10:34 AM on November 6, 2019


And Argybarg, I'm going to memail with you because I think we're getting into "get a room" territory.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:37 AM on November 6 [1 favorite +] [!]


and here I was enjoying your back-and-forth in the context that you two had gotten a room but you were voicing your positions so passionately that we could all hear you anyway.
posted by philip-random at 11:00 AM on November 6, 2019 [4 favorites]



You truly feel that Shakespeare’s plays had the same level of emotional surprise and insight as the Marvel movies?


I was going to say something about how this thread mostly made me want to go back and watch "Slings & Arrows," but then I read that there's going to be a "Slings & Arrows" prequel, which is the best thing I've heard all day.
posted by thivaia at 11:17 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


He's saying that corporate capital is the gatekeeper, but that the people being let THROUGH the gate are to blame for the existence OF corporate capital.

I can't see it that way. He's complaining about uniformity in process and product, the remedy of which is more people involved in designing and creating the works, that just doesn't fit a gatekeeping perspective, it just feels like that to those who like the products he's seen as belittling. If there's a flaw in that perspective, it's more in the belief that people actually want a more diverse range of material, but he wants to believe that regardless if its true.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:20 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


Scorsese needs to accept that the vast majority do not share his movie preferences. That is a bitter pill, but it can also be liberating. Those of who are with Scorsese need to stop whining about the majority, and devote our energies instead to the creation of a self-sustaining community standing apart from popular culture.
posted by No Robots at 11:24 AM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


I can't see it that way. He's complaining about uniformity in process and product, the remedy of which is more people involved in designing and creating the works, that just doesn't fit a gatekeeping perspective, it just feels like that to those who like the products he's seen as belittling.

But his evidence for this "uniformity in process and product" is "the superhero movies are what end up getting show in theaters on more screens and for a longer duration than the smaller stuff". His thinking completely overlooks the fact that "whether or not the superhero movies are more or less formulaic than The Irishman or The Lighthouse or other indie fare is less important to a movie house than whether or not the superhero movies attract more paying customers."

There have always been people churning out franchisey, formulaic stuff. There were films like that when Scorsese was a kid, there were films like that when Scorsese was just getting started, there are films like that today. In the days when streaming channels and home video wasn't a thing, something like The Irishman would have happily co-existed with something like Guardians Of The Galaxy, because a theater owner knew that even though the audience for The Irishman would be smaller, they would still be an audience coming to the theater. It's all well and good to wish that more audiences liked the more "intellectual" stuff or what have you, or that more theaters showed it, but....well, wish in one hand, shit in the other, and see which one fills up first. And in the meantime, the movie theaters now have to compete with Netflix and DVD sales, and they need to make the same amount of money, so....

"More people getting involved in designing and creating the works" doesn't matter a tinkers' damn if the theaters aren't going to show the work you make because they know that Frozen 2 is going to get more people paying for tickets.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:35 AM on November 6, 2019


"More people getting involved in designing and creating the works" doesn't matter a tinkers' damn if the theaters aren't going to show the work you make because they know that Frozen 2 is going to get more people paying for tickets.

Right, which is why the audience part matters, but he doesn't want to admit that, in part because when he got his start there wasn't a vibrant Hollywood industry, but one in disarray that took some years to regain its footing as dominant. That period was more an outlier than the norm, but it is true enough that many people would watch more unusual works if there wasn't a glut of familiar stuff constantly available, while of course some smaller number will seek unusual works more frequently.

The issue is one of familiarity, which can also be seen as a type of convenience. As we can witness throughout many other areas of society, people will choose convenience over effort even if the effort may hold better potential for increased reward. An unfamiliar work, something that doesn't seem to fit into normal expected categories by its nature requires some added effort to engage with simply for being different.

Given the choice between the unknown effort/reward mix and the known ease/familiarity option, people will mostly choose the latter because movies just aren't as important to them as they are to some fewer others. If there wasn't the constant stream of uniform product or even if that stream was one of more modest uniformity, familiar by genre and general Hollywood, or other industry, standards, then more risk in viewing would follow, but Marvel's purpose is to largely eliminate as much of that uncertainty as possible to maintain their viewers, much like other brands seek uniform experiences to maintain their customers.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:54 AM on November 6, 2019


Reading this thread made me realize that I’ve seemingly spent the last twenty years reading these sort of culture war threads on Metafilter, which proceed like a car crash happening in excruciatingly slow motion.

(1) Shame: Conversations about so-called high culture fail here, because they require half the conversants to feel ashamed about liking art they identify with at a deeply personal level. No one wants to be told they're stupid or have bad taste. And so people end up really having often conversations that are really with the high school English teacher who shamed their love of pulp science-fiction or the haughty Pitchfork review who slammed their favorite album. This particular thread is a no-win. Lovers of Marvel films end up shilling for one of the biggest corporations on the planet, while people who’ve spent their lives reading film journals and Bazin are told there's no way to talk about art and find themselves inexplicably rallying behind the oeuvre of Martin Scorsese. Like most conversations on the Internet, there is no way to change one’s mind, be vulnerable, or learn something.

(2) High Art vs Mass Culture: This conversation goes back to the origin of mass culture in the early 20th century, which left intellectuals responded to in totally different ways. European Marxists like Adorno saw mass culture, like Big Band jazz, as soulless commodities produced by large corporations. Other scholars, like Lawrence Levine and Dick Hebdige, saw pop culture as something that individuals could reclaim, find deep personal meaning in, and often re-deploy in new subcultural contexts. The problem is that these views seem mutually contradictory—and yet are both right. I think that Thor: Ragnarok was an incredible work of visual imagination. I have several sets of Marvel runs, once ran a comics flea market stand, and am friends with some Marvel writers. I can have these opinions while also thinking that the rise of Marvel franchise films has been awful for film as a medium.

(3) Corporatization of Film: Film is a curious place for this debate to take place, since it is by definition a mass art. This is something that Scorsese addresses in the piece, which is actually a love letter to film as a popular art. While some people are taking him to say that all Hollywood movies are bad, he's actually saying something more complicated: that the studio system at its best created an adversarial relationship between corporation and artist, a dialectic that created incredible films that were both artistically innovative and crowd-pleasing. But now corporate control has become so dominant that this dialectic no longer works and a mass-produced film can’t help but become a commodity, with any rough edges shorn off.

This is a factual claim, independent of people’s feelings about specific films. In terms of exhibition, five corporations account for more than half the movie screens nationwide. Just as neoliberalism hallowed out the middle class, so too have Hollywood blockbusters obliterated the middle tier film. Genres like drama, romance, and horror, have seen declining budgets, while the budgets for fantasy films have blown up. Disney now owns Lucasfilm, Fox, Fox Searchlight, NBC, Marvel, and Pixar. Its control over the media landscape is so overwhelming that it has transformed the copyright regime in this country. In mid-2019, the top four grossing films in the US were Disney films and this is before the new Star Wars, Maleficient, and Frozen II. By way of comparison, in the 1960s, the top grossing movies still included The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, Butch Cassidy, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and big-budget art films like 2001 and Lawrence of Arabia. And there've been several examples of Disney prizing commerce above "art": their pushing Joe Wright’s Woman in the Window to 2020, taking out a Tibetan character from Doctor Strange so as to not offend the Chinese, kowtowing to pressure from right-wing fans who hated The Last Jedi, and firing Edgar Wright from Ant-Man. I’ve enjoyed many Marvel movies, and I can also recognize that a media oligopoly is bad for daring filmmaking. I also love a lot of things that have “bad” art values, such as agitprop and community art: Marvel superhero movies are neither of these things!

(4) "ART": The conversations about “Art” feel beside the point, because the essay is about a highly specific context (the corporate conquest of film) and "art" has no meaning outside of highly specific economic contexts. Furthermore, “art” has often been specifically defined against mass culture (cf Greenberg vs Warhol). It might help to talk instead about filmmaking. Many genres of film and film-making techniques are simply not possible within the Disney/Marvel template. Scorsese is an admirer of Italian neorealism, which seeks to give a sense of the social life of a given place or time, but such attention to milieu is impossible within an escapist fantasy film meant to appeal to a global audience. Many film techniques—such as the experimental editing of Kiarostami or Hou Hsiao Hsien, the dadaism of Athena Tsagkari, the drastically long takes of Bela Tarr or Jia Zhangke—would never work in a Marvel film because they reduce the legibility of the film-watching experience. Scorsese’s reference to an individual artist is a red herring: he’s really talking about a form of art-making that is not about creating a commodity with an aim of pleasing an audience, but about the creation of an art object without imagining any audience in mind.

(5) Okay Boomer & Global Cinema: The attacks on Scorsese, as a person and filmmaker, are ad hominem attacks and beside the point. However, the subtext of “Okay, Boomer” is accidentally interesting because this is a problem that goes back to how the ‘70s generation transformed American filmmaking. The Boomers were the ones who invented indie film premised on radical auteurship, countercultural themes, deep dives into specific social contexts, method acting, and working outside the studio system, but they also invented the special effects blockbuster (Star Wars) that has since destroyed indie filmmaking. Maybe the best rebuttal to Marvel and a way of thinking about what else film has to offer: Scorsese has been a godsend to cinema by (what might be called) people of color and from the global south through his World Cinema Project, which gives a good sense of the kind of films that would never be produced by Disney. A River Called Titas is an incredibly beautiful left film about a river community in Bangladesh. Touki Bouki is a crazy, blood-filled, motorcycle-driving French New Wave film set in Dakar. Apichatpong’s Mysterious Object at Noon is an insanely mysterious experimental film between fiction and nonfiction, social realism and surrealism. Edward Yang! Almost all of these directors are ones that were nearly impossible to be distributed commercially and they point to radically different ways of making film.
posted by johnasdf at 12:01 PM on November 6, 2019 [31 favorites]


Yes, which is why claiming that this is happening to the MCU franchise is absurd and offensive on its face.

Scorsese is literally saying that it is not cinema.

I'm sorry you resent these movies' success so very much. Even though I've enjoyed many of them, they're not the movies I would pick to be making billions of dollars myself. But to argue that that's not the intellectual move Scorsese is making here is just disingenuous.
posted by praemunire at 12:02 PM on November 6, 2019


...but Marvel's purpose is to largely eliminate as much of that uncertainty as possible to maintain their viewers, much like other brands seek uniform experiences to maintain their customers.

You don't think that Universal Studios were also trying to do that by releasing a series of Frankenstein sequels in the 1930s? Or MGM wasn't trying to do that with a series of The Thin Man sequels? Or Universal wasn't trying to revive its monster franchise when it released a series of "Abbot and Costello meet" films with them? Or Paramount wasn't trying to do that with its "Road to...." films with Crosby and Hope? Or....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:09 PM on November 6, 2019


not going to lie, I was really hoping we'd get through the entire thread without an Adorno reference
posted by dinty_moore at 12:13 PM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


Yes, proto-franchises have long existed and have long suffered many of the same problems of uniform-ish production in their attempt to maintain an ongoing audience. They were, however, more the fringe of Hollywood than the center for much of that time, not the main product but the filler, at least after the first one or two in any given series. I don't think there's any suggestion that Hollywood was ever in the primary business of making "arthouse" films, audiences were always the main consideration, but the methods of attracting them differed over the eras.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:17 PM on November 6, 2019


Delete this whole thread except for johnasdf’s last comment
posted by thedaniel at 12:24 PM on November 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


Yes, proto-franchises have long existed and have long suffered many of the same problems of uniform-ish production in their attempt to maintain an ongoing audience. They were, however, more the fringe of Hollywood than the center for much of that time, not the main product but the filler, at least after the first one or two in any given series.

The Road To Morocco came out in 1942, and was the fourth-highest grossing film of that year. ....Casblanca came out that same year and was the ninth-highest grossing film. These weren't the "fringes", they were the mass-market.

I don't think there's any suggestion that Hollywood was ever in the primary business of making "arthouse" films, audiences were always the main consideration, but the methods of attracting them differed over the eras.

That is exactly my point - that audiences have always been the main consideration. And at a time when there wasn't only one option for seeing a movie, it was easier for movie houses to be more inclusive when it came to selecting what they would show. The difference between 1942 and today isn't that the formulaic stuff is somehow more pervasive; the difference is that the people who wanted to see Casablanca in 1942 couldn't shrug and say "eh, we can just stream it."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:25 PM on November 6, 2019


To be fair to Scorsese, the domination of superhero movies on the box office in the past years is quite stunning. Of the 50 movies that made the annual top 10 (US domestic) between 2014 and 2018, 20 (40%) are from this particular genre. But more generally, since the advent of the blockbusters in the mid-1970s, action-oriented genre movies (sci-fi/superhero/fantasy, action/thriller, horror, war, adventure) and children movies have gradually and then completely taken over the box office, displacing comedies and dramas: all top-grossing movies today except those targetting kids are about people running around trying to kill other people and stuff creatively. A side effect was to push away women-centric stories, since the action genres are often based on IPs targetting young men.

There was a true thematic diversity (within the limitations of the time of course) in the pre-1980 top box office that no longer exists. Kramer vs Kramer, a divorce drama, was the top movie in 1979, and On the Golden Pond, a family drama with the Fondas, was squeezed between Raiders of the Lost Ark and Superman II in 1981. This doesn't mean that comedies and dramas have disappeared - thematic diversity has moved down the box office or took refuge in prestige TV where it flourishes -, but it's clear that the taste of the moviegoing public has changed drastically in the past 40 years. The last "regular" drama - not featuring extensive SFX like Titanic and Forrest Gump - to top the US box office was Rain Man (1988), thirty years ago. In 1945, the top grossing movie (above Hitchcocks' Spellbound, but Ingrid Bergman was in both movies!) was The Bells of St. Mary's, a film "about a priest and a nun who, despite their good-natured rivalry, try to save their school from being shut down".

Amusingly, that situation is not unprecedented: from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s, it was musicals that dominated the US box office, though to a lesser extent. For instance, 50% of the top 10 movies of 1936 and 1950 were musicals (comedies, dramas, animated). Those musicals shared some characteristics with superhero movies: they were based on existing popular IP (stage musicals or well-known stories vs comics), their big set pieces were the main attraction (dancing numbers vs CGI fights), and their stories tended do be formulaic. Their art was less in scripts and film-making than in choreography, dancing/singing and sets (that's an oversimplification of course). But even then there was a lot of diversity in the rest of box office successes, and dramas were quite prominent. There were 5 musicals in the top 10 of 1950, but also two dramas that have become classics, All about Eve and Sunset Boulevard, an epic adventure movie and 2 comedies.
posted by elgilito at 12:30 PM on November 6, 2019 [9 favorites]


Scorsese needs to accept that the vast majority do not share his movie preferences.

I suspect he accepted this a long time ago. What he's not prepared to accept, and I'm with him, is the tyranny of the majority that the current state of the big deal franchise movies (Marvel in particular) seems to be imposing.

We can have a marketplace where both big deal franchises and cool and unique and challenging (insert your own adjective) smaller films co-exist. Why not? The only argument against it seems to be "market forces", which I can understand but not accept.
posted by philip-random at 12:34 PM on November 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


There was a true thematic diversity (within the limitations of the time of course) in the pre-1980 top box office that no longer exists. Kramer vs Kramer, a divorce drama, was the top movie in 1979, and On the Golden Pond, a family drama with the Fondas, was squeezed between Raiders of the Lost Ark and Superman II in 1981. This doesn't mean that comedies and dramas have disappeared - thematic diversity has moved down the box office or took refuge in prestige TV where it flourishes -, but it's clear that the taste of the moviegoing public has changed drastically in the past 40 years.

Interesting. How many people streamed Kramer Vs. Kramer on Netflix in 1979 as opposed to those who went to see it in theaters?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:36 PM on November 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


The difference between 1942 and today isn't that the formulaic stuff is somehow more pervasive

I think you're taking a broader view of formulaic than Scorsese is referencing in his complaint, which goes beyond just genre commonality or other Hollywood style likeness. You don't have to agree with him of course, but there is a difference in scale and kind in the current Disney empire dominance that cherry picking from the past can't match. I mean even the fans of the Marvel movies talked about the unprecedented nature of the totality of it all, so it isn't exactly a secret or anything.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:00 PM on November 6, 2019


The thing is, Scorsese is objectively wrong if he's claiming Disney/Marvel/Whatever is driving out movies that aren't part of a huge IP empire.

Right this second my local theater is showing:

"Cinema"
Harriet
The Current War
The Lighthouse
Downton Abbey


"Mere Audiovisual Entertainment"
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (as a flashback thing)
Terminator: Dark Fate
Malefecant: Mistress of Evil
Zombieland: Double Tap
The Addams Family

Debatable
Motherless Brooklyn
Black and Blue
Joker
Countdown

Assuming any sequel or comedy doesn't count we've still got four "cinema" pieces playing against five clear merely audiovisual entertainment flicks and four debatable movies you could make an argument for either direction.

Roughly 1/3 of the movies currently showing at my local theater are arguably "cinema". I don't think that's particularly different from what you'd see back in the 1990's, 1980's, 1970's, 1960's, and 1950's. Certainly back in the 1950's movie theaters weren't dominated by reruns of Citizen Kane and other high art pieces.

Completely leaving aside the validity of his classifications and whether or not he's got a good point or is just being a snob, he's simply wrong. There are currently zero superhero movies playing, zero Marvel movies, and four to eight "cinema" movies depending on how we count the debatables. If we count all my debatables as cinema then fully 2/3 of what's currently showing at my local theater is cinema as opposed to mere audiovisual entertainment.

Far from dying, or being driven out, it seems to be thriving and that's totally leaving aside the huge number of artsy period pieces focusing on interpersonal relationships that we see coming out via the streaming services which I think it is entirely wrong to simply dismiss because they aren't shown in flickelry 24fps at a crowded theater.

His thesis is simply wrong when we examine the facts.
posted by sotonohito at 1:06 PM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


The thing is, Scorsese is objectively wrong if he's claiming Disney/Marvel/Whatever is driving out movies that aren't part of a huge IP empire.

His thesis is simply wrong when we examine the facts.

I love that you say he's objectively wrong based on FACTS and LOGIC and then give a completely subjective analysis based on the movies playing in your local theater and your total guess with zero evidence of what it was like in the past.

I think everyone can agree that most people, myself and yourself included, are not subject matter expert on the business of film like Martin 'freaking Scorsese is well established to be, so I'm not sure why you're trying to act like he's so obviously out of line.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 1:17 PM on November 6, 2019 [6 favorites]


Very clever idea, Polymodus, but I'm afraid it's been done before:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seduction_of_the_Innocent

That's from 50 years ago. 5 years ago, the studies were showing that complex novels do things to people's brains that other kinds of fiction/nonfiction doesn't; this was well publicized on places like NPR; IIRC there's at least one metafilter post about it. So scholars and researchers are able to study this question in a way that doesn't repeat the mistakes of scientism, colonialism, etc.
posted by polymodus at 1:33 PM on November 6, 2019


I don't think you're saying I have to phone up Martin Scorsese and get him to tell me which movies are cinema and which are mere audiovisual entertainment or we can't actually do any sort of objective analysis of how many of each are playing, but that's what you seem to have written. Could you clarify?

Again though, a simple perusal of the list of top movies by dollars historically will show that on average they're not high art no matter the decade.

Scorsese is simply wrong if he thinks "cinema" is dying because it's being forced out by Marvel.
posted by sotonohito at 1:35 PM on November 6, 2019


You don't have to agree with him of course, but there is a difference in scale and kind in the current Disney empire dominance that cherry picking from the past can't match. I mean even the fans of the Marvel movies talked about the unprecedented nature of the totality of it all, so it isn't exactly a secret or anything.

I do agree that there is something different about the Disney Empire control of media and how it's encroaching on the different outlets. However, I think that that is a different issue from the inherent worth of a given genre, and whether or not that given genre is overshadowing all other films.

Lemme put it this way. The argument on the floor is that "superhero films aren't cinema", and that it is a problem that these "not cinema" films are dominating screens and audiences aren't demanding better. But audience attendance at superhero films is only a part of the puzzle - I would wager that it's a smaller part, and Disney's dominance of the distribution network is the bigger part of the puzzle. And that if it were pirate films that Disney was putting forth instead, Scorsese would be complaining that "pirate films aren't cinema". Or if it were animated stuff he'd be complaining that "animated films aren't cinema". Or if it were movies about talking pop-tarts he'd be complaining that "pop-tart films aren't cinema".

Meanwhile Disney is sitting back and saying "don't look at us, we're just buying up all the screens we can and doing what we want with them...."

What Disney is putting on the screens isn't the problem, so much as it's that Disney is becoming a monopoly. And that is what I wish Scorsese had complained about instead of trying to make a "cinema or not" value call.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:40 PM on November 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


So is Scorsese a victim? Do we cut him some slack for not articulating everything perfectly?
posted by polymodus at 1:45 PM on November 6, 2019


So is Scorsese a victim? Do we cut him some slack for not articulating everything perfectly?

So you're saying that people who disagree with Scorsese are an angry mob attacking him as opposed to disagreeing with his ideas?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:48 PM on November 6, 2019


No no, let's unpack this. When we talk about victimology we are saying that we are open to believing their claims over the claims of their aggressor. So the correct slot for "aggressor" would be Disney, i.e., Scorsese-as-artist as victim of corporate dominance. So the fact that he's complaining about X but is really facing a problem Y and not fully articulating that (Y), do we spend time saying he's wrong about X, or alternatively, help him articulate Y.
posted by polymodus at 1:51 PM on November 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


To be fair, sotonohito, 'tis the season for Oscar bait. Fewer movies get put into theaters these days, it's true. Fewer people go to the movies year after year.

Interesting. How many people streamed Kramer Vs. Kramer on Netflix in 1979 as opposed to those who went to see it in theaters?

This is when I really wish streaming services were a little more open about their viewing numbers, because the complete dismissal of people watching movies outside of the theater (as if none of you ever used a video/dvd rental) is kind of maddening. To use a comics analogy - looking at box office numbers to judge popularity feels like using the pull list to determine comics sales. It's outdated, everyone knows it's incorrect, it's ignoring the actual mass market in favor of fanboys, but nobody cares because it's the easiest thing to do.

I hate to keep on bringing up television, but we've been talking circles around whether or not there's a death of high art in one medium and ignoring the fact that something that was mostly artless two decades ago has gotten really interesting and fun. I think (so far) the mere audiovisual entertainment that has stuck with me the most this year (in like, an artistic way, Idk) hasn't been anything I've seen in the theaters, but Russian Doll - or maybe the Steven Universe finale. The most innovative 'I can't believe this got made' comedy has been Los Espookys (this sounds kind of dumb, but until recently I didn't realize that comedies were supposed to be, you know, funny and not just sort of anxiety inducing).

And I do wonder if Scorsese's dismissal of television and streaming in general is because they're a lot more openly collaborative - and that's obviously not keeping the end product from being at least as artistically viable as cinema. The insistence of the auteur, the single vision, the dismissal of artistic collaboration as meaningful is probably the most bewildering part to me. Of course movies are collaborative! Editing is hard, thankless work, actors are hopefully not hired to just mindlessly spit out lines, and somebody's going to decide what the sets are going to look like and unless you're Wes Anderson, you're not going to want to have to sign off on every single prop. And surprisingly, sometimes network interference makes things better. Credits list more than the director for a reason, and that's a good, amazing thing. We should celebrate the sheer amount of effort disparate people put into making a movie, not sweep it under the rug in favor of pretending one person did all of the work.
posted by dinty_moore at 1:53 PM on November 6, 2019 [6 favorites]


> Interesting. How many people streamed Kramer Vs. Kramer on Netflix in 1979 as opposed to those who went to see it in theaters?

This is when I really wish streaming services were a little more open about their viewing numbers, because the complete dismissal of people watching movies outside of the theater (as if none of you ever used a video/dvd rental) is kind of maddening.


...To clarify....

My point in asking "how many people streamed KRAMER VS. KRAMER on Netflix" was to point out that there was no one streaming it, because Netflix didn't exist. As for home video, that was still a very new technology.

The argument was that "the cinematic offerings in 1979 were more diverse than they were today, and therefore there is something about the audiences that have changed". My point was that "nothing about the audiences has changed - what has changed is the number of ways that a moviegoer can access a movie."

You're precisely right that the dismissal of people watching movies outside of the theater is maddening. In my case, the thing I find maddening about it is that people are using the movies-inside-the-theater as proof of a purported dumbing-down of the American audiences.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:01 PM on November 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


My point was that "nothing about the audiences has changed - what has changed is the number of ways that a moviegoer can access a movie."

I remember when Kramer vs Kramer came out (in France!), and it was huge. People were talking about the movie, newspapers were talking about the movie, intellectuals argued about the movie (and French people rediscovered the lost art of French toast). There's even a sociology paper about the way Kramer vs Kramer was received in France! I don't think there has been something like that since.

As I said above, the thematic diversity has moved, and lots of people are still watching dramas, comedies, documentaries etc. at home. But the impact of several classes of movies, those prestige dramas and non-action movies that people used to flock to in theaters and enjoy collectively and discuss, it's been gone for a while, or at least scattered, segmented among hundreds of TV shows that are only watchable on subscription. And the only shows that seem to have a collective impact are, well, superhero shows and sci-fi/fantasy ones. The upside is that these genre shows (and movies) are so popular that they can afford to explore concepts and themes that go beyond their genre, ie surviving abuse in Jessica Jones, or whatever crazy stuff happened in Legion and Doom Patrol.

50 years ago, there would have been a movie made from a popular book like My Brilliant Friend, and, if well done by a prestige director, it would have been a hit (the books have sold over 10 million copies). Now it's a series on HBO, and as perfect an adaptation as one can expect, and it's probably been successful on that media. But there's no discussion about it on Fanfare, while we have megathreads there on any Marvel or Star Wars movies.
posted by elgilito at 3:28 PM on November 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'd also argue that the timing is a bit off if Scorsese wants to lay the blame for the death of cinema on Marvel. That is, at least where I live (NYC) the start of the demise of the art house theaters predated the total dominance of the Mouse House by some years. Rather, the rise of the multiplex made it harder in the first instance for the small independent theater to compete. And secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the advent of digital theatrical distribution put the nail in the coffin of the midsized release.

It used to be that even a blockbuster could only debut at a limited number of screens at once because the actual film stock was expensive and only produced in limited quantities. A set of reels would gradually make the rounds from first-run theaters to smaller or cheaper venues. Moviegoers would have to wait to see the latest hits and in the meantime could make room for more esoteric fare. Now, the same movie can debut simultaneously on thousands of screens, and blockbusters are able to crowd out minor films.

Arguably that has helped to create a cultural shift whereby moviegoers have come to expect the "event" as an essential part of the experience. You go to the cinema for the shared spectacle of viewing effects-filled tentpole pics at the same time as everyone else. And in contrast, particularly if a film is a cerebral "work of art," the home theater is at least for some, a vastly preferential experience to dealing with rude movie etiquette, a poor view of subtitles and other assorted annoyances.

Scorsese might want to turn the clock back on that, but it's never happening. And in any case, the Marvel film just represents the apotheosis of these developments, not their ultimate cause.
posted by xigxag at 3:32 PM on November 6, 2019 [7 favorites]


You're precisely right that the dismissal of people watching movies outside of the theater is maddening. In my case, the thing I find maddening about it is that people are using the movies-inside-the-theater as proof of a purported dumbing-down of the American audiences.

Other people obviously have different feelings on this but I don't feel like I've really seen a movie unless I've seen it in a theater. Or at the least, I see watching a movie on a TV as a totally different activity from seeing in the theater and once I've seen a film in the theater, I seldom want to watch it on TV ever again.
posted by octothorpe at 3:57 PM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


Martin sounds like he's pissy that the special medium he grew up with and wielded is going by the way side.

But maybe he should do something about movie theaters only surviving by overcharging for popcorn and sugar water. Rather than, you know, just feeding that monster and then crying when people can pay less for a better experience in their own home.

Or he could just piss and moan.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:59 PM on November 6, 2019


Capitalist who rose to prominence during boom of his industry shakes fist at logical conclusion of said boom.

Scorsese's male ego-trips were part of the proof-of-concept that brought these tropes to market saturation.
posted by avalonian at 4:15 PM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


But maybe he should do something about movie theaters only surviving by overcharging for popcorn and sugar water. Rather than, you know, just feeding that monster and then crying when people can pay less for a better experience in their own home.

I’m curious what steps you think he could take to affect the specific problems he lays out in the editorial (the tone of which is pretty far from pissing and moaning). He’s well-known within the film world for producing small films and for working to preserve, distribute, and show older films, world films, and films by marginalized groups that might otherwise be lost or unseen. A lot of the issues he raises are due to consolidation of theater chains and corporations like Disney that control the production and distribution of films. How could he affect that?

It’s interesting how many different views there are of Scorsese here. I really enjoy his films but always thought of him as more mainstream than “arty” or “elitist” (his films about films, like the one about Italian cinema, are aimed at the general population and not specialists or experts). Of all the “auteurs” he’s always seemed the least snobby to me, maybe with the exception of John Waters (who’s a snob in his own unique way).
posted by sallybrown at 4:32 PM on November 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


He’s well-known within the film world for producing small films and for working to preserve, distribute, and show older films, world films,

What's a 'world film'? Is it the kind of film that people who listen to 'world music' like to watch?
posted by signal at 5:43 PM on November 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project (already linked above). My apologies if that was confusing!
posted by sallybrown at 5:54 PM on November 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


It's almost like everyone is simultaneously right & wrong about this issue, just like in real life.

Scorscey sez Ubermen are dum (check) and the market system panders to them (check) which is true, but he's an old man yelling at the moon (check) and his films suck (not really, but check) and there's always more to the entire saga than that..
posted by ovvl at 6:28 PM on November 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


What Disney is putting on the screens isn't the problem, so much as it's that Disney is becoming a monopoly. And that is what I wish Scorsese had complained about instead of trying to make a "cinema or not" value call.

Yeah, that'd be nice, but it isn't quite what Scorsese is talking about, or at least Disney alone no longer is all that he's talking about. The "theme park" quote throws some shade Disney's way, but it's no longer just a Disney issue. Scorsese is complaining about movies now just being part of an integrated brand product, where movies aren't getting made as much just to be movies but as part of a larger package of entertainment capture of audiences. That's what he's referring to by lack of risk, not so much superhero movies in and of themselves, which he notes audiences enjoy. (Though he does also seems to have some doubts about their artistic merits aside from the capture aspect, judging from some of his side comments.)

That element of brand as "world" packaging of entertainment is something different than whether or not Abbott and Costello movies were formulaic as they were just one part of a more diverse set of works that only had mild integration on the fringes, as when they pair met Frankenstein or whatnot. Again though Scorsese's ideal is more like Hollywood in the late 60s early 70s or any place where filmmakers are given more chance to make the films they want to make that aren't being forced into some larger idea of corporate synergy in branding. Disney sells Disney first and foremost, the movies are made to be fit with their theme parks, toys, online presence and all other aspects of their totality instead of being made as movies alone. Yes, toys and corporate tie ins to marketing have long existed, but the level of integration companies are looking for now is of an entirely different scale aimed to change how people engage with the entertainment industry.

This is something that is happening in video games and "TV" as well, where the goal is just to keep people coming back without necessarily providing any resolution to the works being made, just a continuous experience of pleasurable deferment. That works for many until they hit the point where they realize there is no pay off, like following shows like Game of Thrones for years only to get a half assed banality of an ending. It cheapened the whole experience for many because it wasn't treated like a complete work that had a meaningful totality to it, just a vehicle to hold attention for ratings. It's something like an anti-gestalt moment for the arts and that is worrying.

His complaints about streaming vs theaters and some of the argument about "synergy" is maybe an old man yelling at clouds kind of thing, but with that is always the issue that just because one accepts change because it happened doesn't mean that acceptance isn't also one of some loss as well and that just accepting change because some bright disrupting capitalist found a way to make a buck isn't exactly an uplifting thought. Focusing too much on a specific moment, like what is playing in movie theaters today, misses something of the point for it being a larger process, but more importantly, the question is of what the future holds. Looking to the current streaming landscape, for example, our current moment of glut is unsustainable and exists primarily to try and gain Disney like control over streaming. What shakes out likely won't resemble the current situation as it is too expensive to maintain this glut of product and viewership is already more hypothetical than actual in many cases.

People adapt to whatever circumstances they face and eventually treat the new circumstance as the norm, that doesn't make it necessarily a better exchange just for having occurred, it's just the result. Questioning the change as it happens can sometimes alter the events to some degree, or it can just be yelling at the clouds. You don't know until one thing is lost and another takes its place.

There's no easy way to tell what will come next, what audiences will find distracting enough to continue to engage with. Superhero movies and their ilk may run their course and a demand for more "auteurish" movies might take their place, or it'll just be TV like streaming services with ongoing series and video games, or maybe something else entirely if teh US's dominance fades and other markets take even a stronger role in shaping the content we see. For movies as a kind of artistic expression, films like The Lighthouse do more to help keep the way people engage with "cinema" fresh than any number of well "liked" Marvel films because they present something new that says movies can be something different than you imagined, but movies as an industry rely on steady sales and the predictably returns from familiar pleasures.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:33 PM on November 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


Or, to be fair to fans of Endgame, I should say that the sense of possible gestalt is now a long game rather than that of any given work being seem as complete in itself. Entertainment/art is increasingly seen as that of ongoing process rather than something that can be taken in as a work unto itself. (and, yes, I'm aware of serialized novels and the like, but the scale now is magnitudes different.)
posted by gusottertrout at 12:01 AM on November 7, 2019


Scorsese is complaining about movies now just being part of an integrated brand product, where movies aren't getting made as much just to be movies but as part of a larger package of entertainment capture of audiences. That's what he's referring to by lack of risk, not so much superhero movies in and of themselves, which he notes audiences enjoy. That element of brand as "world" packaging of entertainment is something different than whether or not Abbott and Costello movies were formulaic as they were just one part of a more diverse set of works that only had mild integration on the fringes, as when they pair met Frankenstein or whatnot.

But he is complaining about it by pointing a finger at the movies that such a system makes. He is complaining about a system by blaming one of the products of that system.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:59 AM on November 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


He’s well-known within the film world for producing small films and for working to preserve, distribute, and show older films, world films, and films by marginalized groups that might otherwise be lost or unseen. A lot of the issues he raises are due to consolidation of theater chains and corporations like Disney that control the production and distribution of films. How could he affect that?

He and others could potentially lay the infrastructure for a new and different distribution system that demonstrates who profitable cinema films can be!

Or he could write an Op-ed piece.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:21 AM on November 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


He is complaining about a system by blaming one of the products of that system.

I'm not sure I follow. I mean he's complaining about all of their products made under this method of film production that he sees as troubling. It isn't that any given studio or movie exists as much as how they are currently making product that bothers him, which unavoidably includes the movies themselves.
posted by gusottertrout at 4:28 AM on November 7, 2019


I mean he's complaining about all of their products made under this method of film production that he sees as troubling. It isn't that any given studio or movie exists as much as how they are currently making product that bothers him, which unavoidably includes the movies themselves.

Right, but instead of "the corporate system of moviemaking is dominating things and making it more difficult for people outside that system," he's saying "movies made this way aren't cinema and aren't art".

One complaint addresses the system. The other addresses a PRODUCT of the system.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:37 AM on November 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


He and others could potentially lay the infrastructure for a new and different distribution system that demonstrates who profitable cinema films can be!

I thought of another option—he could make his next film about the thuggish industrial monopolists and the brave trust-busters who ushered in the Sherman Act :-P
posted by sallybrown at 6:39 AM on November 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


The federal government sued the studios under the Sherman Anti-trust act in 1948 and won. Disney seems like a much bigger monopoly than the big five did back then but obviously our current administration won't do anything about it.
posted by octothorpe at 6:56 AM on November 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


It doesn’t help that there was a conservative antitrust effort beginning in the 70s to use the federal courts to hollow out antitrust law to kneecap enforcement. (Another potential Scorsese picture - the thugs who started the Federalist Society.)
posted by sallybrown at 7:43 AM on November 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


He is complaining about a system by blaming one of the products of that system.

the ends are the means ...
posted by philip-random at 8:33 AM on November 7, 2019


Right, but instead of "the corporate system of moviemaking is dominating things and making it more difficult for people outside that system," he's saying "movies made this way aren't cinema

Well that would follow wouldn't it? I mean if he thought the product was "cinema" there'd be no cause for complaint in the first place. The two things are inextricably tied, the process turns out a product that doesn't allow for the kind of artistic involvement Scorsese believes in. It's not that he's complaining that any of that product exists, but that it's pushing out other options.

It's basically an ecosystem issue, Scorsese might not have thought Diamonds are Forever or other James Bond movies are any different or better than the Marvel stuff, but when those movies exist as just one part of an overall healthy ecosystem there's no reason to complain, but when it feels like you have to make James Bond movies in order to get work shown on the big screen, then there's a problem as your input to the process is minimal and all in service of the James Bond brand.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:35 AM on November 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


> Right, but instead of "the corporate system of moviemaking is dominating things and making it more difficult for people outside that system," he's saying "movies made this way aren't cinema

Well that would follow wouldn't it? I mean if he thought the product was "cinema" there'd be no cause for complaint in the first place. The two things are inextricably tied, the process turns out a product that doesn't allow for the kind of artistic involvement Scorsese believes in. It's not that he's complaining that any of that product exists, but that it's pushing out other options.


The key words there are "if he thought the product was 'cinema'." Last I checked, Martin Charles Scorsese was not Ordained By The Lord God Most High to be Sole Arbiter Of What Qualifies As Cinema And What Does Not. So for him to be concentrating his complaint on "this process doesn't result in movies I think are 'cinema'," basically, he's setting himself up as being the Sole Arbiter Of What Qualifies As Cinema And What Does Not.

If, however, he'd said that "this process is making it more difficult for people outside the studio/corporate system and is creating a sort of monoculture of film," then that leaves out entirely the question of "what is and what is not cinema" that is pissing so many people off - because his complaint more like "the people who like these kinds of movies are made in the shade, and the people who don't are kind of out in the cold. It would be better to have everyone have access to the movies they each want to see."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:42 AM on November 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


I suppose my position in all of this is that I don't mind that he's pissing people off. I quite like it actually. I grew up at the right time to appreciate punk rock and its reductive provocations, and every now and then, it's refreshing to see something like this happen. Mr. Scorcese is of a different generation than mine (though we both seem to get tossed into the boomer stew -- speaking of provocations) but it's always been clear to me that he got what the whole punk thing was about, and no doubt delighted in it. An art that actually tears into things, negates if needs be. We need that every now and then.

I should also point out that, as a young man (growing youth?), the first eruptions of Punk rather left me cold, pissed me off, hurt me even. Because the music I loved in 1977-78-79 was precisely the stuff it was tearing into. So I get the anger that's been kicked up here. But as one of the original punks put it in perhaps his most pop-friendly recording ever. Anger Is An Energy. The question then is, what are you gonna do with it?
posted by philip-random at 9:18 AM on November 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


It occurred to me recently that one thing Scorsese has done -- though he perhaps did it inadvertently -- by opening up this debate is that he's given women, people of color, and members of various marginalized groups ground on which to stand when we criticize our representation (or lack thereof) in epic superhero and sci-fi/fantasy films and ask for more and better presence.

For a long time, the pushback we got from folks like the Sad Puppy and angry internet nerd contingents was stuff like "They're just silly spectacle and not meant to be taken seriously! Stop trying to insist that these movies are supposed to say something about society and important things!"

Now if people try that line, we can say "Uh uh uh: remember what you said about these kinds of films when Scorsese tried to say they weren't real art?"

I mean, I know that lot will still be jerks about it, but it'll be funny to see them fumble and mumble and backtrack and try to simultaneously claim that the cape/sword/laser gun flicks are simultaneously mindless and empty spectacles and also works of art that can stand shoulder to shoulder with important films.
posted by lord_wolf at 9:27 AM on November 7, 2019 [6 favorites]


So for him to be concentrating his complaint on "this process doesn't result in movies I think are 'cinema'," basically, he's setting himself up as being the Sole Arbiter Of What Qualifies As Cinema And What Does Not.

Sole arbiter? He was asked what he thought and gave an answer. I guess he could have called and asked around for a consensus or something, but offering his own opinion as his own seems a pretty reasonable thing to do otherwise.

I gotta say I'm not quite getting what the issue is here. Scorsese should like superhero movies? He shouldn't have an opinion on them? That giving an opinion when others may feel differently is wrong? Any criteria for art other than supporting absolute equivalency in subjective taste is wrong?
posted by gusottertrout at 10:55 AM on November 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


I gotta say I'm not quite getting what the issue is here. Scorsese should like superhero movies? He shouldn't have an opinion on them? That giving an opinion when others may feel differently is wrong? Any criteria for art other than supporting absolute equivalency in subjective taste is wrong?

The issue is that Scorsese is trying to say "the system is broken," but his "proof" for "the system being broken" is "the stuff that's getting made doesn't count as being real movies".

I promise that it was possible for him to say "the system is broken" without trash-talking an entire category of movies. It really, really was.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:04 AM on November 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Okay, I can see we're going around in circles on this, so I'll just give it this one last try and let it go.

Scorsese wouldn't say the system is broken if the movies being made weren't the evidence of the problem in the system, as he sees it of course. It's the manner of movies being made that provides the basis of the problem. If the movie exhibited, what he considers, significant personal artistic vision then the manner of their production wouldn't be an issue and there'd be no complaint to be made.

The bottom line is the movies, the manner of production is the explanation. Scorsese could say something else, but that is apparently what he thinks. He doesn't place much value on superhero movies and is fine expressing that despite knowing how popular they are. if others like superhero movies they are certainly free to disagree with Scorsese and would likely find his complaints about the system equally misguided because it's producing movies they like. I tend to like when people who work in film are honest about their appraisals of it but to each their own.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:03 PM on November 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


"they're stuck with maybe a limited release in larger markets and then they go to Netflix, where those of us who prefer the smaller stuff have started just accepting that that's where we'll have to see those things while everyone else gets to go see the money-making stuff at the multiplex."

I work in film distribution and I would push back on the idea that Netflix is there to serve your independent film needs. Netflix has slowed their licensing of indie titles down to a trickle - they are pretty much only interested in releasing movies and television under their own banner (and woe to the filmmaker to pushes back on Netflix's demands). You simply aren't going to see the most interesting things the film scene has to offer nowadays if you rely on Netflix to fill in what you couldn't catch in theaters. It's relatively easy to get your films up on Apple and Amazon, to at least give the movie a place where audiences can find it, but the price point is miserable and profitability is a challenge. The film business in general is, without a doubt, struggling. I don't necessarily blame Marvel movies for this but I definitely think it is a symptom of the problem.
posted by cakelite at 1:13 PM on November 7, 2019 [12 favorites]


And I find the experience of watching something--especially a film that invests a lot in its cinematography-- in a theatre to be materially different than watching it on my laptop. [...] And I get that it doesn't make a lot of difference for a lot of people, and that seems to be the way the world is contentedlyheaded toward alone with my iPad.

Y’all know about a newfangled device called a “television”, right? This movie palace vs. watching on your phone false dichotomy is hilarious.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 1:30 PM on November 7, 2019


When I saw Spike Lee a few years ago at a showing of Do the Right Thing, he yelled at the audience to never watch movies on your phone. He also complained that you could get funding for a $100M movie or a $1M one but nothing in between.
posted by octothorpe at 2:04 PM on November 7, 2019 [5 favorites]


@Cakeline that Netflix story sounds a lot like the way MTV treated indie filmmakers, animators etc. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss, as they say.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:14 PM on November 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


Er, @cakelite. Sorry for the typo!
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:42 PM on November 7, 2019


Entertainment/art is increasingly seen as that of ongoing process rather than something that can be taken in as a work unto itself. (and, yes, I'm aware of serialized novels and the like, but the scale now is magnitudes different.)

Software is increasingly becoming the same thing as well. Why write a solid piece of code if we can patch it in production later on? Or sell day-one DLCs for features that should've been included in the first place?
posted by Apocryphon at 6:08 PM on November 7, 2019


Scorsese wouldn't say the system is broken if the movies being made weren't the evidence of the problem in the system, as he sees it of course.

And you don't think that's a problem, that his evidence for "the system is broken" is nothing more than "the movies I like aren't being made"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:47 PM on November 7, 2019


Well, what I think is that what Scorsese is saying deserves consideration from anyone interested in movies. He has demonstrated a knowledge, love, and concern about movies and their history that is matched by few, so his expertise in this matter deserves respect in the same way any expert testimony would from any other field. Because of that attempts to shift the subject to just being about "likes" and "dislikes", definitions, or to otherwise question his sincerity or motives is a mistake.

Disagreement can certainly be made, but it needs to be made from a position that addresses the main elements of his claims. "Liking" or "disliking" something is obviously important to the individual who asserts that value or feels whatever way that causes the judgement to arise, but it is a very limited manner of interaction that, in itself, can be damaging to the arts if taken as the only measure of value for how it erodes the many values in art to one simple and individually determined facet that asks only for judgement without regard to effort, knowledge, or history that may be behind it. Art appreciation under that view is just reaction with deeper consideration purely optional with no added weight to it.

Art, perhaps especially movies, is difficult to talk about because the way we each attend to it appears identical but our responses are not. Not just in "taste" but in what we actually "see" or "hear". In a movie, the same characters, situations, and events will be seen by all but how we each might perceive them can differ dramatically. The way each of us sees the work will rightly define it for us, but that seems to lead people to think that it therefore means all reactions are the same as if a movie is just information we all pick up in more or less the same way. We don't feel that way about other things, like when I used to go to NBA games with a friend who was a coach and ref. I'd be watching the exact same things as him but wouldn't see what he did because I didn't know all that much about basketball. He'd see blown coverage or a nice pick and I'd see guys running around and follow the ball. That didn't make my experience of the game any less valid for me than his was to him. I could "like" what I saw without loss. Listening to him and watching more games increased my knowledge of the sport some, but frankly I'm not all that interested in devoting the effort involved into really learning about it and seeing the game like a player or coach would, and that's fine. I still like watching even as my perceptions have changed while knowing there are others who will see things I won't.

Movies aren't basketball. Most of us have some basic knowledge of how they work and what they "mean" because we've mostly all seen enough of them to build a history, but there is still some similar effect involved as some will "see" more or differently than we will and being threatened by that or wanting to minimize that difference is a mistake that denies a whole realm of artistic understanding. That doesn't mean Scorsese is "right" and I'd be wrong if I disagreed with him, just that what we were talking about might not be the same if there wasn't some effort made to understand each other and what it is we're each seeing.

Scorsese's argument is something like that a renowned author might make if an AI was developed that wrote a bunch of popular thrillers, romances, and fantasies. The author could complain that those books aren't literature, or some like argument, and provide reason that an AI can't provide the same artistic vision a person can, it's just algorithms combining elements from past books with different names and order. That author wouldn't "like" the books for the result because the method of their creation is inherently corrupted. It isn't the "dislike" that is the important point, but the why of it because those two things can't be disentangled.

Scorsese is saying "cinema" is dying. He's saying that because what he understands as cinema, a process of creativity and engagement is changing to something different. I think his arguments have a lot of merit. Cinema, as he means it, is dying and being replaced with something new. How we each might react to that is another matter. Disney and some of the other major corporations are indifferent to the fact. They seem to believe it very well might be true that the movie and theater experience may have run its course and have made plans for the next thing, which they then actively try to push through to match their plans. Audiences largely don't care because they aren't invested in "cinema" they're invested in enjoying themselves and don't have much interest in the effort to keep "cinema" vital. They like some "cinema" well enough when they see it, but don't feel compelled to seek it out because it isn't a major part of their lives, so there's no good reason for them to care. I'm not sure I even care that much since I don't go to the movies often at all and refuse to join streaming services so I only watch what I can get for free or cheap. I selfishly care more about movie history than movie future as I won't be around to see it, even as I think losing "cinema" would be a significant artistic loss.

I believe that watching movies on phonescreens, tv monitors, notebooks or whatever else is a significantly different experience than seeing movies on a big screen. There is loss of effect and information in smaller scale, but for many movies that doesn't really matter all that much because the effects and information aren't of the type that is lost because of the broader strokes and planning involved knowing people are watching movies on smaller screens.

I think most superhero movies are a lot like the equivalent of Red Delicious apples in some ways, they're primarily cultivated for shipping (Cap & Bucky 4eva! Oops, not that kind of shipping...) and storage. I can enjoy a Red Delicious, but it isn't an apple I'd first seek out and wouldn't want them to take space from heirloom varieties, but don't get irate if other people prefer them or a Gala or Granny Smiths to Cox's Orange Pippins.

At the same time, I think Scorsese isn't giving enough credit to the superhero genre for its creativity in some ways. I think his big picture concerns have merit and many of his issues with corporate "theme parking" of the individual movies are also largely true, but find there's both still more creativity and meaning sneaking in around the edges, even if not enough to make any of the superhero movies I've seen, which is almost all of them, cohere into a completely satisfying totality, more that there are fractures of interest that prevent them from being completely uniform branding.

I also think that if we accept Scorsese might indeed be right and they aren't "cinema", they still are something and what that something is can be interesting on its own in ways that go in a different direction than "cinema" and maybe art in some fashion, though "art" is never a stationary target and what is appreciated and how changes along with everything else. What superhero movies do within their genre and how they respond to "the real" is always interesting and often annoying for their adherence to certain repeated simplistic formulas in what emotions they seek to strike that won't offend (the importance of friendship!) and how hard they work to avoid causing offense. They also mostly exhibit the solid craft that is the hallmark of Hollywood movies and hard to replicate or replace as part of the experience of the movies.

The directors personalities do show through more than perhaps suggested by Scorsese, but even when that isn't a interest someone is still orchestrating the larger whole that is the Marvel Universe and that creativity needs consideration, if not necessarily always celebration. Things like the decision to have Black Panther and Thor:Ragnarok share a virtually identical overall plots and being released back to back is an interesting creative choice. (Having the character Captain Marvel given a story where she literally has no set identity for most of its running time and then bitching about Brie Larson not being an interesting enough performer in bringing that lack of identity to life on the other hand...)

Importantly, Scorsese knows movies, but he doesn't know comic books and since what we take from movies relies heavily on what we bring in, he seems to miss that aspect of the experience altogether. With a movie like Logan, for example, the whole emotional core of the film revolves around how comics hold a history and meaning of their own that then can find grip in the larger world. It is a form of recirculating or recycling of the superheroes own mythos, but that isn't all that different from some other genre films, like westerns for one example, that mythologize themselves or from many narrow genres as they all tend towards ever increasing self-reference as artists seek to subvert the genre "rules" as its own reward instead of speaking to the "real" world. Ride the High Country, for just one example, is more famous for how it upended some genre tropes than for anything it said about the "real" west. This means audiences have to understand the rules in order to appreciate possible subversion or comment on the genre ideology. Not knowing the background will make the movie feel less rich.

In a like fashion, anyone who reads Scorsese's take needs to account for where Scorsese is coming from. You may not share his history or interest or concerns because of that or come to some only roughly similar place due to whatever other interests and history you hold. That's all to the good, his history doesn't "insult" yours, it's just his own and connects through whatever shared interest you might have in "cinema". No one has to agree with Scorsese in how he sees superhero movies but that doesn't mean that you should disregard what he says about the state of movies and "cinema" now since there is a lot to consider that goes beyond whether one likes it or not. If you don't share Scorsese's interests, then enjoy your own since none of this will likely matter given neither Disney nor audiences are going to change just because Scorsese said so.

(The "you" of course is meant to be a generic one to whoever reads, not EmpressCallipygos specifically since I well know the care and interest the Empress has in movies. My ramble was meant to address a variety of possibilities, not any one person.)
posted by gusottertrout at 1:38 AM on November 8, 2019 [7 favorites]


Netflix CEO Reed Hastings defended his company's decision to take down an episode of comedian Hasan Minhaj's show "Patriot Act" within Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, explaining that his company is not in the "truth to power" business.

posted by johnasdf at 6:32 AM on November 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


thanks gusottertrout --

I'm tempted to say you took the words right out of my mouth, but that goes way deeper than I would've or could've. I do think you nail it with ...

Scorsese's argument is something like that a renowned author might make if an AI was developed that wrote a bunch of popular thrillers, romances, and fantasies. [...] That author wouldn't "like" the books for the result because the method of their creation is inherently corrupted. It isn't the "dislike" that is the important point, but the why of it because those two things can't be disentangled.

... to which I'd add a sort of paraphrased version of something someone said about Marshall McLuhan the other day. It's not really his conclusions about this or that which should concern us today, but the groundwork of his thinking. Or more to the point, he didn't so much tell us what to think about media, as offer a nuanced context for how to think about it." I suspect that digging deeper into Scorcese's thinking as to the nature of cinema (versus just movies) would reveal similar layers of richness.
posted by philip-random at 11:17 AM on November 8, 2019


Scorsese's argument is something like that a renowned author might make if an AI was developed that wrote a bunch of popular thrillers, romances, and fantasies. The author could complain that those books aren't literature, or some like argument, and provide reason that an AI can't provide the same artistic vision a person can, it's just algorithms combining elements from past books with different names and order. That author wouldn't "like" the books for the result because the method of their creation is inherently corrupted. It isn't the "dislike" that is the important point, but the why of it because those two things can't be disentangled.

Not quite, because as you mention, Marvel's movies are still made by human beings who do have their own vision and artistic voice, even if it's filtered through a very specific commercial lens. Rather, imagine a collection of books with multiple creators - maybe different creators handling different parts of the book's creation, and overseen by some editors by different levels of interfering corporate control to create an overall coherent shared world. You know, a comic book.

Only, in reality, it's entirely possible for someone to make a comic book on their own - draw, ink, write, publish, and reach the same number of people - more, maybe - as your mid-tier marvel comic. Nobody is creating and distributing a film entirely on their own unless you really stretch the definition out.

I believe that watching movies on phonescreens, tv monitors, notebooks or whatever else is a significantly different experience than seeing movies on a big screen. There is loss of effect and information in smaller scale, but for many movies that doesn't really matter all that much because the effects and information aren't of the type that is lost because of the broader strokes and planning involved knowing people are watching movies on smaller screens.

Isn't it the other way around? Something like Into the Spider-Verse is such a visual spectacle that it really needs to be seen on the wide screen, while more human-sized pieces like The Favourite - while amazing - was better served by being able to pause and rewind and rewatch. The only movie that I've seen within the last few years that really tanked because of its small screen release was Annihilation, and that's because it was created to rely on blockbuster sound and visual design. Likewise, for the shared emotional experience angle - something that is the culmination of over a decade of movies and characters and emotional input is going to be more of a meaningful experience to see with others in the theater than niche movie I don't know anything about, seen with an audience that feels too serious to ever possibly make a sound. Popular culture products that rely on mass appeal are going to have a greater emotional response from the greatest number of people - and therefore more likely to have emotional responses from random people than a piece that might mean the more an individual personally, but might not strike the person next them the same way. If it works for you, it works for you - but there have definitely been movie experiences where I have been verklempt, but the only one who is having that reaction, and it was not a great experience for anyone.

The thing that has been in the back of my mind for this entire thread is The Irishman is three and a half hours long with no intermission. That is not a film my bladder or I would appreciate seeing without a pause button. Scorsese is definitely benefiting from the distribution method that he is denigrating, widescreen or lack of shared emotional experience or no.
posted by dinty_moore at 12:20 PM on November 8, 2019


I don't think everyone necessarily prefers to watch something like The Irishman at home with a pause button. For me, whether it's The Irishman or Barry Lyndon or even yes, The Avengers, they benefit enormously from the immersive aspect of a dark theater. I think long movies work best when you take them in all at once in a space that isn't conducive to thoughts like "man, this is long" or "did my dog just fart?" My attention span shrinks when I watch things at home, and I think that is pretty common. There's nothing wrong with taking a quick bathroom break at the movies! I'm also a big fan of napping at movies, so your mileage may vary.
posted by cakelite at 12:36 PM on November 8, 2019


Okay, but the reason why movies aren't typically released with three and a half hour run times without an intermission is because people need to pee, movie theaters can't do as many showings of them in a day, and for a lot of people it's uncomfortable to sit for that long without moving (not to mention paying extra for the sitter). And that really is common, which is why movies for wide release aren't allowed to be three and a half hours long without intermission! You can't tell me that if Scorsese had tried for wide release, someone wouldn't have talked to him about the length, even if it is Scorsese.

I'm also at a loss at how the immersive aspect of a dark theater helps, but it's totally okay to remove yourself from the theater, go to a brightly lit bathroom, and return to the dark environment having missed five minutes of the movie, but not lose the immersive aspect. Not to mention those fifteen minutes beforehand when you're thinking about correctly timing your pee break, or maybe holding it to the end.

Like, seriously. You like going to the movies, okay. A lot of people don't think it's worth the price, which is why people have stopped going to the movies as often - if going to a movie theater was better for everybody, ticket sales wouldn't have been dropping for twenty years. It's weird, nobody has ever told me that I had to read outside of my home, or listen to music outside of my home (there are bands that sound better live and there are ones that sound better with headphones, but nobody has ever tried to tell me that one or the other was less artistically valid).
posted by dinty_moore at 1:01 PM on November 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


dinty_moore, I don’t think anyone is chiding you for disliking seeing long movies in the theater, just noting that some of us do enjoy that. Maybe it’s a self-selecting group who don’t mind very long periods of sitting, getting emotional with strangers in the dark, and being deprived of a bathroom for up to four hours, or something.
posted by sallybrown at 1:04 PM on November 8, 2019


Right, but if you're talking about the mass audience, most people like to have the ability to pee after the three hour mark, and movie studios enforce a certain movie length. Scorsese is denigrating Netflix for allowing him to make a three and a half hour movie, but seemingly ignores the fact that movies haven't been allowed to be that long in movie theaters since intermissions were a thing (or, in fact, given an intermission anyway). He's allowed to reach a much larger audience with a product that would have been changed via studio interference otherwise because of the distribution method.

People have definitely been trying to convince me and others that there is more artistic merit to seeing a movie in the theater throughout this thread, but even if they weren't - we're not talking about small audiences or individuals here, who can still make it to their local art cinema as much as they were before (which is another issue of accessibility). We're talking mid-market mass releases.
posted by dinty_moore at 1:18 PM on November 8, 2019


I wasn't trying to make some kind of generalization that everyone should watch long movies in the theater, I was saying that for me and a lot of people, it is preferable! I straight up need to see The Irishman in the theater because I'm not going to watch a three and a half hour long movie at home unless I had no other way to see it. Just because you needed to rewind The Favorite a bunch of times to enjoy it doesn't mean that it everyone is "better served" by watching it that way. I don't necessarily attach a lot of "artistic merit" or some kind of special cache to seeing movies in the theater, it's just kind of obvious to me that a lot of movies are made for that specific experience.
posted by cakelite at 1:41 PM on November 8, 2019


Cakelite, do you think it's a coincidence that most movies that had a wide release in the last forty or so years are at three hours or under? I'm not saying that this is my individual preference (though it is, because bladder), I'm saying that the mass audience expects theatrical releases to be somewhere between an hour and a half to three hours long, and movie studios expect things to fit within that length before they distribute. I am, in fact, making a generalization, and I'm finding really strange that there's a pushback over the idea that three and a half hour wide theatrical releases are rare and things that studios fight against.

As a coincidence, or maybe just Scorsese, the only popular movie I could find that was around three and a half hours without an intermission was Godfather Part II, and it was originally supposed to have one (also, still eight minutes shorter than the Irishman). Otherwise, there's some documentaries that might or might not have had intermissions, but in general it's very, very rare.
posted by dinty_moore at 2:28 PM on November 8, 2019


It’s rare for movies to be three and a half hours long, yes. This is a fact. Not once did I say anything to the contrary. What is your point? I don’t think Scorsese needed Netflix to bypass some imaginary rule about movie running times in order to make a film only a half hour longer than The Wolf of Wall Street, but I could be wrong. Either way I don’t understand anyone who cares about this stuff taking a “how dare he criticize Netflix” position.
posted by cakelite at 2:58 PM on November 8, 2019


Believe it or not, in some places I end up being the guy who actually defends superhero movies against those who want to quickly dismiss them without thought for much the same reason as I push back against too ready acceptance of them as being movies as usual. To me, they are different and do suggest something new in the movie industry. I don't think we watch them quite the same way we do other movies or that they provide their "meaning"/entertainment in the same fashion, but they are still quite obviously doing something that many are finding worthwhile which is worth looking at more closely in both how it works and how it doesn't.

One thing that really stands out is how much of the experience of the movies isn't actually coming from the movies themselves, at least individually, but as part of some greater connected whole of experience that comes from a variety of sources. The comics themselves of course provide the initial background that movies exploit and reform to their own ends, but they also rely heavily on the internet and fandom to provide "meaning" that the movies themselves only suggest. Some of it is a little bit like the Snakes on a Plane scenario, where the movies are taking feedback from the fandom and constantly adjusting their films to fit the wants of the audience in ways that can be disruptive to a creator driven artistic vision.

Since Snakes on a Plane, however, the industry has gotten much savvier about how the feedback loop works, with movies now planting information they expect fans to pick up on and spin their own takes on what it means as a way to boost excitement about the product. The shows Sherlock and Hannibal, for example, did something like this in TV, where vague possible hints of connections would be teased, picked up on by fans who would push for some particular development or resolution which the shows would then play back to fans in some manner that may or may not be satisfying. That created some weird issues for the shows, which are echoed in the movies that now do much the same. In this way, and some others, movies now are less like movies, even previous franchises like Bond or the first six Star Wars movies and more like television and comics, but still something different than each.

It's something that has developed over their run and in its adoption keeps increasing the distance between past ideas of what a movie experience is and the new model. Take the football that has been Spider-Man movies for example, the attempts to bring that character to the screen were of the three downs then punt to a new cast reboot because they couldn't develop the character into anything lasting. The reasons for that seem to be that in bringing Spider-Man to the screen they essentialize the character to some few basic elements that they think have global reach. His origin with the great power great responsibility bit, his teen awkwardness turned adult control growth, and his relationship with Mary Jane and/or Gwen.

Those elements are used up quickly as they are basically resolved in the first few films, Spider-Man learns about power, he overcomes much of his awkwardness, and reveals his identity to the girl and they smooch. That's it. They didn't know what to do with the character beyond that and in reboots just tend to try new combinations of antagonists to draw out different elements of those same essential conflicts. When they go beyond that, like in Craven's Spider-Man 3, where he attempts to introduce a new theme that builds from the old, the audience drops away. Sure, they point to the cast or some other thing in the movie making, but those elements are fairly consistent, what changes are the stakes and nature of the conflict. Once Spider-Man is past the initial learning curve Hollywood doesn't have a map for what to do with the character that fits their want for basic emotional conflict. They try to do a Bond thing, but it doesn't fit that character well in movie terms for being sorta isolated and nerdy. In the comics that pays off as the character development can be drawn out at a much slower pace to be mixed in with a variety of villains, both too ridiculous to be used easily onscreen and the more iconic ones.

Like with Batman, those few iconic villains are as necessary to the success of the screen character in how they provide a balanced antagonistic relationship to the hero that actually informs the whole to a at least moderately satisfying degree. You can have Spider-man fight Stiltman on the pace and make those dozen pages look cool enough to work, but onscreen the need for some connection to the real makes that difficult as the development is accelerated and the conflict made redundant by the limits of what the audience can accept or find interesting. Fights onscreen generally aren't all that compelling, in some heightened moments they made be, a particular exchange or whatever, but the broad elements of the fight tend to look pretty much the same but have to play out in time if they are to be shown, which isn't that much fun.

The Marvel movies slowly changed that by shifting the films from primarily action to primarily character interaction, which is why they rely so heavily on the group team up movies at their core. That didn't initially solve the problem of the individual films, as one could attest by seeing the first couple Thor movies, for example, but it led the way to getting around that issue. The first movie a new hero character appears in is the origin story or getting to know their background and situation one. That's a fairly easy sell as people are going to be interested in where the new character comes from and fairly easy to create in terms of some character theme because it's gonna be a why they fight kinda deal. That guarantees some audience, but not necessarily a satisfied one as some of the pared down histories of the characters aren't all that compelling once you see them play out; the audience will go see a Thor movie, but they won't necessarily think it a good experience.

Marvel fixed that by basically dumping the action genre formula in favor of something closer to situational comedy. Not entirely of course, Winter Soldier went with the Cold War thriller template, but the basic idea is the same in borrowing from other genres to cover the gaps in their own, as it was first conceived. But even the Captain America movies few into the larger idea of extending the format from focus on the individual characters in their own movies, to using the individual movies to build connection to the overall whole, which is represented in the Avengers movies. Once they made the first Avengers movie they used the group interaction to feed back into the individual character films and slowly eroded the distinctions between them, to where they were all just one big thing that played out in various episodes over the years. The degree to which the individual films were expected to stand on their own as movies declined to the point where the most recent individual films barely had any sensible plot of their own, instead just being character stuff and feeder for the whole.

The Ant-Man and Wasp movie, which I "like", is the most extreme example of this, where the plot barely makes sense as holding any useful purpose and the "villains" and good bit of the "development" seems to exist mostly just to create interest in how it may or may not be used later as it is put to little use in the movie itself. Bill Foster is introduced as someone Hank used to work with but pissed off because Hank can be an asshole. Bill Foster is known to comic fans as Black Goliath/Giant Man in the comics, and the character mentions he once did experiments with size like Hank, but nothing else comes from it in the film just as Hank's asshole personality is lampshaded but nothing much comes from that, I mean, yes, he's a grump in the film, as he was in the last one, but that we can see, the need to keep mentioning it suggests something "more" might be involved, but the movie only hints at that, doesn't do anything with it.

The same is true for both the main "villain" the Ghost, who is given a sympathetic back story, but fights the Pyms and Land because conflict is needed rather than for any sensible reason and ends the movie on something like good terms once Janet is brought back from the microverse or whatever they call it. Janet herself is used as a hook for the fans much like Bill Foster, and excuse for the plot, and its resolution, but without any of it having much internal sense to it in traditional movie terms. Her introduction feels more of a prime for something else later than anything else and her rescue more an excuse to provide development for Endgame than important in itself. The other "villains" lack much substance other than in the possible connection to other things and so on. There's nothing to the movie that feels like it warrants a movie in any traditional sense, as there's really nothing there in some important ways.

But as I said, I liked the movie and tend to think of it as one of the better of the superhero films. Why is because of the characters, not character development so much, as just the character interaction. Scott and Cassie, Luis and everybody, and for all the uselessness of the events, the general attitude of the movie about the characters and events was pleasing and sometimes clever. The fights, for example, actually fit with the tone of the movie for being "empty" themselves in amusing ways. The three main fighters, Ant-Man, Wasp, and Ghost all essentially have vanishing from view as a key element of their power, so when they fought, each would disappear and reappear while the camera would follow essentially empty space or reactions to "hits" that seemed to come from nothing. The other action scenes used the shrink/grow Pym particles to keep the audience off balance as well, as small things suddenly grew big or big things small, throwing things out of whack in the movie and as an experience as well. It was pleasing and clever, but not really like a movie in the usual sense, more like a big budget TV show perhaps, but something that wasn't really either.

That's because the sense behind it all is being informed by something else, the knowledge that comes from the awareness of the "Marvel Movie Universe", the history of the comics, the talk on the internet in fandom and journalism, and the sense of this all being part of some bigger thing that is undefined and without likely resolution. The experience isn't closed off as it would be in a movie in the traditional sense or even a series in that same way, its left open and unsettled to be accepted or ignored as one wishes because none of it is absolutely necessary to the experience of whatever the larger whole might be, but all of it feeds into that gulf of "world building". The experience is of something being built that has no real finished form, but a finished form is something essential to, well, "cinema". What these movies are, or the experience of them is, is something very different than that.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:19 PM on November 8, 2019 [4 favorites]


Oops, that's Raimi's Spider-Man 3, with the axis of evil thing going, not Craven's. I always mix those two up.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:14 AM on November 9, 2019


What I find compelling about gusottertrout's take on this, and why I've watched in some confusion as the thread began to wind itself in knots over the question of What Is Art, is that I agree that the relevant distinction isn't Good Cinema Art versus Bad Corporate Movie Trash, but between movies that can stand alone and movies that really exist as parts of a series, with the restrictions in growth, development and surprise that a series implies.

The fact that we can only have trilogies of Spiders-Man is a great example, because like...what kind of growth do we really expect from Spidey? The source material doesn't suggest much; there are a tiny handful of pivotal events in the comics over the course of nearly sixty years, but most of the stories are: "Here is a bad guy! I will make jokes while I fight him!" We don't want him to grow. We don't want him to change, because making jokes while fighting is his personality.

The format's pleasures come from familiarity, and from plot-driven surprise rather than emotional surprise, and we see this in many, many genres across different media. If you walk down the mystery section of your local bookstore, series will dominate the shelves. The surprises come from the cases and their revelations, rather than major changes that could destabilize the characters and the dynamics between them.

And it's clear that in these other media, crowding out does happen. Switch from the mystery section to science fiction, and note how many books are media tie-ins; every author who wrote one of those tie-ins could have been writing a standalone book of her own world, but for whatever reason (money, stability, enjoyment of the shared world) she chose to write as part of this other series. Is it a loss to the world that she made that choice? Is it a loss that the publisher decided it was lower risk to put out books in a known franchise? Is it possible the publisher uses this safe source of revenue to take risks on new authors and their heretofore unseen worlds? It's complicated, and not amenable to good guy/bad guy analysis. (I roll my eyes when friends reveal that their science fiction reading is predominantly Star Wars novels. Those aren't real books! And then when I want to read a mystery I go back to the same authors I've been reading the past 20-30 years, whose detectives are having the same conversations with the same friends that they had back when I was in high school.)

(Romance is an interesting contrast because there's no story without a very particular character dynamic. Once the characters are together, that's it, there's nowhere for them to go. So where can you find the comforts of the familiar? One method is to create series centered around family or friends, so that beloved characters can show up again and again.)

I mostly find myself sympathetic to Scorsese's argument. There's nothing wrong with the MCU having an enjoyable sameness about the movies, the worry is more in the bigness of them, the vastness of the budget, the way they take up all the air. But even if you were to agree that Disney and the MCU are a problem, don't you think that all you have to do is wait a while? Disney in this current form won't last. Corporations get to a certain size, and the fault-lines grow into chasms. Small mistakes have their effects magnified. There's no guarantee that the next phase of the MCU will be as wildly successful as the last, and no guarantee that another behemoth will take its place. Sometimes things that seem big and eternal just...stop.
posted by mittens at 6:03 AM on November 9, 2019 [4 favorites]


There's no guarantee that the next phase of the MCU will be as wildly successful as the last, and no guarantee that another behemoth will take its place. Sometimes things that seem big and eternal just...stop.

Yes, this is definitely an argument of the moment, looking back at this time 30 years from now, assuming movies still exist as part of popular culture, whatever form those movies take will be seen as just another part of movie history as a continuous flow of development. If the so called "theme park" method somehow remains dominant, even if not with superheroes, then people who talk about movies will have adapted to that as the norm and found new criteria to add to the old to assess artistry or difference within them.

The problem though is that if/when the current fad for superheroes and similar franchise stuff dies off, there's a good chance it'll take the movie theaters network out with them since movie theaters are already in a perilous spot and rely on the monoculture of blockbusters to support themselves, if the interest in superhero movies goes there's nothing else to replace it in time to keep a good chunk of the theater industry from going belly up.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:27 AM on November 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


if going to a movie theater was better for everybody, ticket sales wouldn't have been dropping for twenty years

I dunno, if you look at this graph of U.S. domestic ticket sales from 1995 to 2019 it looks fairly steady, with ticket sales hovering most years between 1.2 million and 1.4 million. The peak in the early 2000s is due to ongoing releases in the Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Harry Potter franchises. That was a damn good time for ticket numbers, but while there's definitely been a decline since then, the slope doesn't look very precipitous and there've been a few small recent rebounds.

Box office revenues, of course, continue to be on a clearly upward trend.
posted by mediareport at 10:57 AM on November 9, 2019


Mediareport, the early 2000's were 20 years ago. Before the early 2000s, the number of ticket sales each year steadily climbed, more or less, year after year, then starting in 2002, movie ticket sales started to decline, year after year. You can sort of see that on the graph you posted, but I admit it's difficult - because it's a spectacularly bad graph. Check out the one I posted earlier in the thread, or this one (which also allows you to go further back than 1995), so you can easily see the 2002 peak and decline - and see how steady the rise was before that. Or just look at the numbers. Around one billion in 1980, about 1.3 in 1995, peaking at over 1.5 billion in 2002, down to 1.3ish now. Of course, that's not adjusting for population - in 1995, there were around 100 million fewer Americans than there are now.

It's been a little more stable since 2012 - when the Avengers came out and marvel movies (and other attempts at imitating the cinematic universe) took off. But still slowly declining.
posted by dinty_moore at 12:23 PM on November 9, 2019


(That should be that there are 100 million more Americans now than there were in 1980; from 1995 the population has only grown by 63 million. Still, ticket sales are decreasing overall, it's deceasing more if you look at ticket sales per capita).
posted by dinty_moore at 12:56 PM on November 9, 2019


But still slowly declining.

Yes, that's exactly what I said: "while there's definitely been a decline since then, the slope doesn't look very precipitous." Also, I'd seen the Statista graph but chose the one at The Numbers because it doesn't manipulate the y-axis to exaggerate the slope of the decline. Seriously, this is exhibit A in the "how to make data look more dramatic than it is" playbook. I'm astonished you'd call the one I used "spectacularly bad" when it's your graph that shows less information and is playing around to create a more exaggerated effect.
posted by mediareport at 1:05 PM on November 9, 2019


Mediareport, the early 2000's were 20 years ago [emphasis added]

Damn, I'm getting old. :-(

I do wonder what's going to replace these epic sf/fantasy films as the tentpoles though. There aren't actually that many that are truly adaptable on a non-bazillion dollar budget and that also can reach a wide enough audience to pay back that budget (and the money spent on the advertising blitz). And you can -- in theory -- only do so many reboots/sidequels/prequels of the ones that have proven profitable.

I do miss the days when any of the big movie releases -- regardless of genre -- was talked about for many months afterward. I remember talking about things like Star Wars, Jaws, The Godfather, Scarface, Predator, Aliens, Roots (on TV, I know, but still), and other stuff for many months after they were released. It seems like nowadays the broader discussions -- outside of places like MeFi/Fanfare and similar joints -- stop a few weeks after the debut.
posted by lord_wolf at 1:06 PM on November 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


(Of course, by "less information" I mean along the y-axis; the Statista graph does have more years of info.)
posted by mediareport at 1:15 PM on November 9, 2019


A little late to the game but ... Alan Moore seems to still know the score:

I think the impact of superheroes on popular culture is both tremendously embarrassing and not a little worrying. While these characters were originally perfectly suited to stimulating the imaginations of their twelve or thirteen year-old audience, today’s franchised übermenschen, aimed at a supposedly adult audience, seem to be serving some kind of different function, and fulfilling different needs. Primarily, mass-market superhero movies seem to be abetting an audience who do not wish to relinquish their grip on (a) their relatively reassuring childhoods, or (b) the relatively reassuring 20th century. The continuing popularity of these movies to me suggests some kind of deliberate, self-imposed state of emotional arrest, combined with an numbing condition of cultural stasis that can be witnessed in comics, movies, popular music and, indeed, right across the cultural spectrum. The superheroes themselves – largely written and drawn by creators who have never stood up for their own rights against the companies that employ them, much less the rights of a Jack Kirby or Jerry Siegel or Joe Schuster – would seem to be largely employed as cowardice compensators, perhaps a bit like the handgun on the nightstand. I would also remark that save for a smattering of non-white characters (and non-white creators) these books and these iconic characters are still very much white supremacist dreams of the master race. In fact, I think that a good argument can be made for D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation as the first American superhero movie, and the point of origin for all those capes and masks.
posted by philip-random at 1:52 PM on November 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


John Woo, too:
“I’m concerned about when these movies get more and more popular, I’m afraid it will make young audiences get lost when it comes to knowledge about film,” he said, adding that these movies have become the standard for younger audiences and that they won’t have the desire to study or watch what Mr. Scorsese refers to as “real cinema” such as Lawrence of Arabia, Mean Streets, A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
posted by Apocryphon at 4:16 PM on November 18, 2019


Bong Joon Ho:
I have a personal problem. I respect the creativity that goes into superhero films, but in real life and in movies, I can’t stand people wearing tight-fitting clothes. I’ll never wear something like that, and just seeing someone in tight clothes is mentally difficult. I don’t know where to look, and I feel suffocated. Most superheroes wear tight suits, so I can never direct one. I don’t think anyone will offer the project to me either. If there is a superhero who has a very boxy costume, maybe I can try.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:13 PM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


or watch what Mr. Scorsese refers to as “real cinema” such as Lawrence of Arabia, Mean Streets, A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Honestly, those films are pretty boring to most of the 21st century audience. It's a generational and time thing, those movies may have been sophisticated during their time, but audiences have been educated to more sophisticated since those earlier times. They expect more stimulus than most earlier movies can provide.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:37 PM on November 19, 2019


Honestly, those films are pretty boring to most of the 21st century audience.


Yeah, that's true, but I'm not sure we become more "sophisticated" in a broad sense as much as just requiring a greater volume of information, activity, or spectacle onscreen. The MCU is something like the equivalent of what people in the politics threads like to call a Gish Gallup, lots of stuff thrown at the audience that may or may not be important to the greater whole, but which in itself provide stimulus. That's a very different thing than older and "arty" movies tend to provide which is why they can come across as requiring more of an effort to attend to once one has become accustomed to high volume stimuli. That doesn't mean more information is necessarily bad, cultural aesthetics do indeed change over time, but losing appreciation of older forms isn't necessarily a plus either.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:21 AM on November 20, 2019


“I’m concerned about when these movies get more and more popular, I’m afraid it will make young audiences get lost when it comes to knowledge about film,” [John Woo] said, adding that these movies have become the standard for younger audiences and that they won’t have the desire to study or watch what Mr. Scorsese refers to as “real cinema” such as Lawrence of Arabia, Mean Streets, A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

....Hasn't this....always been the case, though? How many kids see the trailer for something like Mean Streets and say "ooh, I wanna see that!"

....Bong Joon Ho's aversion to people in tight suits doesn't really speak to whether he considers those films cinema or not. It only deals with whether he would be able to direct one. And it sounds like he's self-aware enough to know that "okay, I don't like them, but I know that it's becuase of a personal quirk for ME and that your mileage may vary."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:32 AM on November 20, 2019


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