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He Was Right All Along: Martin Scorcese’s BBC Comments on the Future of Cinema

Film Director Martin Scorsese attends the Apple Original Film "Killers Of The Flower Moon" Screen Talk at Royal Festival Hall during the 67th BFI London Film Festival
Film Director Martin Scorsese attends the Apple Original Film "Killers Of The Flower Moon" Screen Talk at Royal Festival Hall during the 67th BFI London Film Festival By Courtesy of EPK.TV
By Avery Britt, Crimson Staff Writer

For years the film world has been slowly progressing into the second age of the studio system. Where indie blockbusters with auteur directors once ruled Hollywood in the New Wave era of the ’60s through the ’80s (your Coppolas and your Cassavetes), their work has been replaced by vapid, studio money-grabs. And one of those great auteurs of this late indie age has something to say about it, and he has for a while.

Martin Scorsese, arguably one of the greatest living directors, has been preaching from his pulpit of celluloid for a few years now, bequeathing some pretty famous headlines in the process like “Marvel Movies Aren’t Cinema” or, more recently, “Why Martin Scorsese Fears the Future of Cinema” from the BBC. While these headlines have been met with some skepticism in the past — these massive movies are killing cinematic art according to someone who has never made one — 2023 has a very different film landscape than 2019. The superhero movies that once had some redeemable artistic value, even if Scorsese did not think so, have become low quality money pits for studio interests. These films that were once examples of the artistic blockbuster, have been spoiled by attempts at sequels planned out for decades to come. And, a film landscape that in the 20th century was filled with almost nothing but original screenplays based only on the creative mind of the screenwriter has been almost entirely replaced by adaptations of books, historical events, or famous people. Therefore, while Scorsese’s words in 2019 might not have rung true at the time, they have become almost a prophecy for what cinema is now and what it might be in the future.

Originally, Scorsese’s comments on Marvel Movies not being “real cinema” ignored a large part of what defines the experience of the movie theater: the gathering in a public place helping to spur on a cultural event. For the modern audience, the death of Iron Man is almost as shocking as “[Luke], I am your father.” However, re-examining his comments now lends his premise more credibility. Recent Marvel movies, post “Avengers: Endgame,” have lost their magic touch. The high stakes relationships and the intricate story lines were the heart of the tales that stood above the vapid action sequences. However, the once interesting quips and heart-wrenching stories died alongside everyone in “Avengers: Endgame,” and Marvel has been left to fester with lackluster dialogue and even more lackluster characters — films driven not by the perfect mix of artistry and economics but by pure financial gain.

The same predicament cheapens even the greatest movies with the advent of sequel mania. “Top Gun ” was a massively successful blockbuster, and in turn entices a sequel; Avatar revolutionized visual effects on screen — let’s add four more of the same movies to the docket. Even the movie of the summer that helped bring back the same sort of “serious” blockbuster comedy that Scorsese speaks about in his BBC interview is in talks for an equally pink return to Barbieland. Sequels are a cash grab from studios thinking that what works once must work again for audience consumption, but they ignore the fact that what worked about these first films was their bombastic originality, creativity, and heart.

Even when new films are made today, they seem to lack the creative sparkle that once ran rampant in Hollywood. Where years ago you would tune in to the Oscars and some of the best movies nominated were original screenplays, now adaptations dominate the landscape. Even Scorsese, who early in his career was known for directing original work like “Taxi Driver,” has shifted into the world of the adaptation. Even his latest film, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is based on the thrilling book of the same name. And, when you do have fantastic original screenplays, the only blockbuster ones seem to come from Quentin Tarantino. A cinematic structure that lacks original screenplays lacks creativity and keeps Hollywood in the current rut in which it is stuck.

Martin Scorsese became the filmmaker that he is by growing up on the studio system in the ‘40s and ’50s, where even despite the stringent studio interest guidelines and auxiliary intervention like the Hays Code, films were interesting and somewhat auteur-focused. Audiences wanted to watch Fred and Ginger in their elite dance routine, they wanted to experience gorgeous dialogue, and even when they wanted pretty people — like Paul Newman or Marlon Brando — those pretty people could act. Our new age studio system behaves more like a dark age, where financial interests trumps any sort of creativity, and instead of aiding in the production of the good film, studios want any film that can make them money.

The only hope of this new era is the exact thing that Scorsese disagrees with. While he believes that cinema today exists in a world of negative “fragmentation,” where specific movies are being made for specific groups, and there is no longer a universal blockbuster. He uses “The Godfather” as an example of the unifying blockbuster of its age that everyone saw and connected to in some manner. With the advent of the streaming services and a more siloed approach to movie making, we get to see other films touch their audiences. And hopefully, as more spaces are allocated to underrepresented auteurs, those spaces will grow and we will once again see the resurgence of the auteur blockbuster that Scorsese has in mind.

—Staff writer Avery Britt can be reached at avery.britt@thecrimson.com

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