In November, American director Martin Scorsese faced considerable public backlash for claiming that Marvel movies “are not real cinema.” He faced strong condemnation from Marvel fans as well as people involved in the making of Marvel’s movies. This fight raises many concerns I have about the future of the filmgoing landscape.
The crux of Scorsese’s argument is that major studios are no longer a place of creativity for filmmakers and audiences. With this, I agree. The films shown in theaters during Scorsese’s youth show a stark difference to now. The works of Hitchcock, Kubrick and Elia Kazan were mainstream. Just imagine a film studio today giving major financing for a film like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Vertigo. It would not happen, unless very specific circumstances arise that I will come to later. There were blockbusters of course. But they differed much from our blockbusters of today.
Take the classic David Lean epic Lawrence of Arabia and compare it to The Avengers and the difference is night and day. Lean’s epic contains some of the most amazing cinematography in film history and tells the true story of a British officer fighting against the Ottoman Turks. Now, this is not to say The Avengers is devoid of merit, but the filmmakers seemed to have been aiming for a different demographic than back in 1962. I’ll put it this way, Lean was not planning on making a multi-million dollar franchise out of this film. No sequels were teased, and there was no post-credit scene. Yet, if Hollywood had continued making historical epics like Lawrence then interest would have dried up.
In fact, by the late 1960s, many studios were threatened with bankruptcy. Huge budgets meant a flop could ruin a studio, and television meant original programming could be presented in the home, damaging ticket sales. This meant that Hollywood filmmakers were willing to take risks with young directors and new visions. These mavericks, including Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Brian De Palma, among others would change the filmmaking landscape. While yes, blockbusters like Jaws, Star Wars, ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and others would come out of this, these blockbusters differ from what we see today in their clear connection to artistic heritage. Star Wars drew on, among other things, the films of Japanese master Akira Kurosawa. Balancing this out were mainstream films like The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, Raging Bull, and so on. These were mainstream films that today would be reserved for the most independent of studios. If anything, the studios of today will only fund films like those if a name like Spielberg, Scorsese or Tarantino is attached to it. New filmmakers with visions are shunned by the mainstream.
The other major killer to a balanced theater experience has been the presence of streaming services. Netflix and other streaming giants have been much more willing to finance such independent filmmakers. The catch is, resentful of lost profits from the ability to watch films at home, theater chains are unwilling to release these movies in a wide release. This relegates these movies to a limited release at best. The irony is that Scorsese is a participant of this as his latest film, The Irishman, was a Netflix film. While I consider the film a masterpiece, the fact that it was a Netflix exclusive means Scorsese is actually participating in the very problem he is criticizing.
The issue is not black and white, and something has to change if we as audiences want to experience something besides blockbusters in the theater. Movies are simply meant to be watched in the theater and Netflix preventing this experience is a shame. And trust me, after seeing Jaws, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Apocalypse Now, and The Godfather Part II in the theater, I have become certain that is a good thing.
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Ben Sagal-Morris is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.