Current Movie Landscape Artistic Roundtable Featuring Scorsese, Gerwig, Phillips, Baumbach, Wang and Meirelles

Slight mea culpa.

Might have been a little harsh on Martin Scorsese over what I deemed to be cinematic elitism on his part in these posts:

He is a brilliant filmmaker and clearly a very intelligent man, but I’ve never understood his beef — still don’t completely — with movies based on comic books / superheroes being like “theme parks.” In the director roundtable video below he is more coherent and reasonable with his explanation and concerns. It’s also nice to see how he supports streaming. If you don’t know much about Martin Scorsese other than his films, after watching the video below you’ll better appreciate his point of view. I did.

Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story), Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Todd Phillips (Joker), Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Fernando Meirelles (The Two Popes) get together in an excellent roundtable discussion on the current state of filmmaking. Great stuff!

An illuminating hour with director luminaries

Still, after watching this, I can see some directors, including Mr. Scorsese, wanting to apply an asterisk to superhero/comic films being not as artistic as say Little Women, The Irishman or Marriage Story. You can sense Todd Phillips sticking up a bit for Joker, although he admits Joker was heavily inspired by Scorsese’s earlier films Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. It would have been cool to include the Avengers; Endgame directors, Anthony and Joe Russo in this roundtable. A missed opportunity by the Hollywood Reporter.

Harley Quinn vs. The Irishman and other artistic films

For me, the character Harley Quinn — yes, a comic book character — has opened up a deep extended universe of material similar to how some of the artistic (dare I say “Oscar-bait”?) films do like Oliver Stone’s JFK made me dig deeper into the world surrounding the JFK Assassination (a topic that I had already been fascinated with) and The Irishman had me poking around on Wikipedia looking back into the life of Jimmy Hoffa.

Just for clarity, I didn’t know much about the character Harley Quinn six months ago. Since that time, with a driving interest in learning more about the upcoming film, Birds of Prey [FIRST LOOK] that comes out February 7, 2020, I ended up doing the following:

  • Subscribed to DC Universe and began following the new adult animated series, Harley Quinn — new reviews of episodes posted here every Friday
  • Starting to explore reading the comics involving Harley Quinn (ongoing)
  • Watched Batman: The Animated Series to see the first time Harley Quinn appeared in a TV show — and then watched, rated, and reviewed all 8 episodes
  • Learned about the live action TV series, Birds of Prey, that is also available for streaming on DC Universe. It stars Dina Meyer as Barbara Gordon and Mia Sara as Dr. Harleen Quinzel / Harley Quinn.
  • Downloaded the DC Universe Online game for Nintendo Switch and paid for a one month member legendary account (at least so far one month, maybe more to follow if I have enough time to play) to explore the game as both a DC hero and villain. My villain character is called HarlsItIs and is styled after Harley Quinn. The first time, btw, I’ve ever played a character in a game that wasn’t male

Speaking of art, check out just a small sample of the art inside the DC Universe game involving the character Harley Quinn:

Inside DC Universe Online on the Nintendo Switch encountering Harley Quinn in a mission

So, not only can moviegoers watch movies and TV shows with the character Harley Quinn, they can play a video game with Harley as one of the characters. Can’t get much more interactive and immersive than that.

Cut scene inside DC Universe Online game (Nintendo Switch)
Harley’s love for Mister J (Joker) is insane, incomprehensible and yet frighteningly real

I realize some people think of comics and animation as a juvenile activity, something we’re supposed to get past when we’re older, but I strongly disagree. Art is art and who is anybody to tell anybody else what isn’t art? What s/he should care about?

That is probably what bothered me the most about Scorsese’s commentary. I felt like he was trying to tell me what I should consider art rather than realizing he was just stating what he thought was art.

This brings me back to why I disagree with the whole “theme park” comparison. Many people enjoy theme parks, many enjoy comics and there are many who still enjoy museums and classic art. We can have all the cake and eat it, we don’t have to pick and choose a particular type and say, “that defines what is cake.”

This is my fundamental disagreement with what Scorsese, I believed, was trying to say about certain films not being art, but my mea culpa is he has the right to pick the cake he wants to eat. I believe this was acknowledged all along, but it’s worth restating. You have a right to define “art” however you want. So do I. Same for Scorsese. We just need to keep our perspective broad and remember the bigger picture.

Everything can be art.

Simply Dismissing Superhero Movies As ‘Not Art’ is Bad for Both Art and Business

Empty 4DX Theater on Opening Night for Rambo: Last Blood (filled to ~25 by showtime)

What is truly best for the health of cinema, for the movie theater business as a whole, is butts in the seat. Period.

We see a lot of movies in the theater. In fact, we’ve seen every new movie we could possibly see in the theaters near us since August 2019. We’ve seen many on opening days usually the first or second showing, so those times should reveal higher attendance. Here’s what we’ve noticed:

The theaters have plenty of extra seats.

Beyond the obvious of making the best movie they can, this is the problem filmmakers should be concerned about. How can we make more movies that people will be excited about seeing in the movie theater? It’s true that some of this problem is that the home experience is a big part of why people aren’t going to movie theaters to see the new movies, but I’d argue that if the product is compelling, people will buy. People will go out. They want to use it as date night and social opportunity.

Staying home all the time gets boring. Get out, enjoy the world. Walk, smell the flowers. Life exists outside the cave.

We can debate whether or not certain subgenres and genres are less entertaining than others — that’s been happening for years (horror, romcoms always seem to be cheap targets)–but we cannot argue with the numbers.

Avengers: Endgame is the highest grossing movie of all time. I can’t and won’t comment on whether or not I liked this movie because I’m one of the few who hasn’t seen it yet. But I can comment that just because it is a superhero movie, shouldn’t be reason to discard it as being unworthy. Whether or not everybody liked the movie, or thinks it is art on the level of say, Titanic or Avatar, the two films it is ahead of in the gross sales is irrelevant. It’s #1. Scoreboard.

It drove people to the movie theaters and you know what? I’m grateful it did!

If enough people don’t go to movie theaters, guess what? There won’t be any more movie theaters. Just like what’s happened with drive-in will happen with the movie theater experience.

These directors — of which there is a growing list — are very good at their craft, but they are short term thinking by not realizing that if you kill the goose, you get no more golden eggs. A better way to approach this would not be pushing potential moviegoers (customers!) away from your movies, even though your movies might be in your mind and some others (not me) “cinematically superior,”

And stop making your argument at the same time you’re promoting a new movie. Here’s looking at you Martin Scorsese (The Irishmen opens November 1) and looking at you, Ken Loach.(Sorry We Missed You also opens November 1)

“They’re market exercise and it has nothing to do with the art of cinema. William Blake said ‘when money is discussed – art is impossible’.”

Blake’s quote is a nice sound bite, but it’s unrealistic. You need money in the current world to do just about everything. Star Trek maybe got it right in a future when we have no money, but unfortunately we don’t have Gene Roddenberry’s future here now.

Before you light up the comments with all the many things we can do without money, I know that’s true, yes it’s true. But who is kidding who that these movies are being made for the better of art? Is Scorsese back in school doing an art film? Is Loach making his movie for the better of mankind with absolutely no profit in mind?

Please.

This post is a continuation of a really good discussion that a reader, Menkaure IX, and I are having in the Martin Scorsese post linked above. He shared Loach’s link, of which I’m grateful (thank you!) but it annoyed me for the article’s total lack of candor, logic and legitimacy. Loach shouldn’t have taken the interviewer’s bait. He should have taken the high road instead of bashing superhero movies. Dumb.

When two sides have opposing viewpoints, somebody needs to send out an olive branch and say, “hey, let’s talk.” That’s not happening here. What we’re getting is reinforcement on both sides with no level-headed discourse.

When you complain about your competition as not being art and using that as an excuse for people not wanting to see it, that just comes off as sour apples to most reasonable people. Maybe we just didn’t like your art?

And to infer that people aren’t laughing, crying or cheering at superhero movies is ludicrous. Of course they are.

There are a ton of other news articles and bloggers talking about this. Let me take some time and link some other opinions, hopefully some which are taking both sides (I had a hard time finding posts agreeing with the directors, please use the comment area to tell me about those who do, so I can update this post going forward), since mine is admittedly more neutral.

Others Discussing

  • brobible: “One could argue: ‘Who doesn’t love theme parks?'”
  • Reggie’s Take: “Call me crazy, but if you don’t watch a movie, you really can’t make an honest criticism if a movie is good or bad or in Scorsese’s case a theme park”
  • The Novice Cinephile: Martin Scorsese and The Dangers of Elitism
  • Hughe’s Reviews: “Scorsese and co.’s doomsday rhetoric, one that declares the apparent death of cinema, is tiresome.”
  • Cosmael: “Scorsese and Coppola’s comments are saying that Cinema should be in a certain way and not in the other, and that is where I am afraid because it means that they are not interested in looking in any other form of “arts” and even less to learn from them.”
  • 2offtopic: “Comparing MARVEL movies to theme parks was actually an astute observation.”
  • The Hobbit Hole: “So we each get to like the movies we like…it’s called living in freedom”
  • The Maltese Geek: ” The MCU may be its own beast that’s not to their liking, but it’s still definitely ‘cinema’.”
  • The Grey Area: “Maybe cinema isn’t a fixed approach, but a generational context within which we place the movies that affect us during a given period of time.”
  • BW Media Spotlight: “…maybe the fans shouldn’t have treated this the same way they did when Roger Ebert make the mistake of saying video games aren’t art “
  • Screenage Wasteland: “I think anyone who saw Avengers: Endgame will agree that it was an experience completely different than a theme park.”
  • James Luxford / Metro: “Scorsese is far from the first person to have a problem with the rise in superhero movies.”
  • Trekkiegeek: “Over 800 films were released in 2018 and out of that the MCU released 3.”
  • The Avro Post: “The stories may not overtly scream emotion at us, and it’s a slow build to trust the writers, directors and actors with our investments of time, finances and emotions, but the bonds of emotion are, in fact, there,”

Summary

Both sides are making some good points, although I admit that the overwhelming number of blogs and social media I’m seeing are negative toward the directors.

My position is let’s have the discussion, just not hurt the business in the process, because that will have negative consequences for the theater experience for every film everywhere.