Martin Scorsese And Saving Cinema From Comic Book Culture

Martin Scorsese in The Pulitzer at 100.

Oscar-winning filmmaker Martin Scorsese is making the arounds ahead of Killers of the Flower Moon with no shortage of controversy.

It’s not so much his fault. Let’s get it out of the way right now. It’s what happens when people keep bringing up comic book movies during interviews with Martin Scorsese. You’d think such questions would be off-limits at this point. The latest comments from the filmmaker come by way of Zach Baron at GQ.

Given the filmmaker’s previous comments on comic book films, one would think that the subject would be off limits during interviews. At this point, broaching the subject with Scorsese is for the sole reason to land clicks. Maybe not even clicks but just discussion of the comments about comic book movies and culture. The fact that we’re talking about his thoughts on comic book movies and nothing else really speaks to what people are taking away from interviews these days. It’s like Scorsese’s thoughts on other things don’t even matter. Let me tell you. You can learn a whole lot about Martin Scorsese from reading the interview. He has thoughts about family. The filmmaker is not a morning person nor does he love to travel.

Martin Scorsese has made no shortage of masterpieces but where does a filmmaker of his stature sit in the studio system?

One fascinating contradiction of Scorsese’s career is that despite his success – critically and, more recently, commercially – he has never been a natural fit in Hollywood’s traditional studio system, and spent many of his younger decades in search of money and support to make what he wanted to make. Even his many successes, in those years, could feel like failures: “They told me one time, I think it was about Casino, where they said, ‘We made $60 million’ – this is a paraphrase quote – ‘We made $60 million on that film or something like that in profit. We’re interested in making $360.’” (Ultimately, the film made about $43 million domestically and $73 million internationally.)

Scorsese nearly quit Hollywood after battling Harvey Weinstein during production on Gangs of New York. Why are we not talking about this more often?

“I realised that I couldn’t work if I had to make films that way ever again,” said Scorsese. “If that was the only way that I was able to be allowed to make films, then I’d have to stop. Because the results weren’t satisfying. It was at times extremely difficult, and I wouldn’t survive it. I’d be dead. And so I decided it was over, really.”

He went onto make The Aviator. After considering quitting once more, he finally won his Best Director Oscar for directing The Departed. Can you imagine what we would have lost out on without a single Scorsese film during the past two decades? Anyway, making the film wasn’t without its own hurdles because of studio politics.

“What they wanted was a franchise. It wasn’t about a moral issue of a person living or dying.” It was about having a character that could survive for another film. Scorsese remembers a test screening where everyone – the audience, the filmmakers – walked out ecstatic: “And then the studio guys walked out and they were very sad, because they just didn’t want that movie. They wanted the franchise. Which means: I can’t work here any more.”

This speaks to a major problem that still exists in Hollywood today. It’s hard to make original IP if it isn’t franchise material. Most of them end up being indie productions but anything coming from a studio is more often than not a known franchise, whether it’s a sequel, spinoff, or reboot. That’s not to say that studios don’t give original ideas a chance but it’s definitely harder in the era we’re living in right now. All you need to do is take a look at how comedies are performing in the years following the pandemic!

Several paragraphs into the GQ piece is where we finally see the comments sparking all the outrage. The author even admits to feeling bad given the vitriol that Scorsese has faced in the past for daring to speak up about comic book movies.

But he does see trouble in the glut of franchise and comic book entertainment that currently makes up much of what you can see in a cinema. “The danger there is what it’s doing to our culture,” said Scorsese. “Because there are going to be generations now that think movies are only those – that’s what movies are.”

Scorsese expanded on his thoughts.

“They already think that. Which means that we have to then fight back stronger. And it’s got to come from the grassroots level. It’s gotta come from the filmmakers themselves. And you’ll have, you know, the Safdie brothers, and you’ll have Chris Nolan, you know what I mean? And hit ’em from all sides. Hit ’em from all sides, and don’t give up. Let’s see what you got. Go out there and do it. Go reinvent. Don’t complain about it. But it’s true, because we’ve got to save cinema.” Cinema could be anything, Scorsese said; it didn’t just have to be serious. Some Like It Hot – that was cinema, for instance. But, “I do think that the manufactured content isn’t really cinema.”

The irony of mentioning Chris Nolan is that he made a trio of comic book movies in The Dark Knight Trilogy. Interestingly enough, the MCU’s success might not even have happened without Nolan’s Batman films. The Dark Knight came out in the same year as Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. However, The Dark Knight should have gotten a Best Picture nomination that year.

None of this even takes into account Scorsese’s recent comments about his opposition to top ten lists. He’s not wrong. One’s top ten could easily vary by day. I honestly have as many private Letterboxd lists as I do public, only making my yearly top films public at the end of the year.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.