Martin Scorsese recently courted controversy by claiming that Superhero movies were “not cinema”. Quite what he means by “cinema” here only he can say for, however venerated he may be, surely he has no more say in defining the term than do the rest of us. It might seem that the opinion of one of the world’s most renowned and lauded directors should hold more weight than a mere member of Joe Public but, as it is that majority of non-directors who determine whether a film is a hit or a bomb, this can’t be quite so simply decided.
If Scorsese had said that he personally didn’t rate Superhero films as ‘cinema’ all would be well, for he is as entitled to an opinion and preference as anyone. Of course, once we put our opinions out in the public domain they are a fair target for anyone who cares to respond.
This is not what the great man said, however, and, indeed, not all that he said. He elaborated, saying, “It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”
This from a director whose oeuvre consists, in the main, of gangster flicks with the occasional Michael Jackson pop video thrown in to the spice the mix. A little dismissive that may be, especially as we are talking of some of the most iconic films of the latter half of the Twentieth Century, yet is it just for one genre-focussed director to demean a whole other genre? Especially with an accusation so unfounded?
Let us look at the dominant Superhero force in the cinematic universe right now. And, to at least appear unbiased, let me state here that I fell asleep during “Endgame” (2019) and thought “Black Panther” the most over-rated movie of 2018.
2008’s “Iron Man”, however, is enough in itself to demonstrate Scorsese wrong. And it is a matter of being either right or wrong. Either Superhero films do convey “emotional, psychological experiences” or they don’t. Clearly, I am of the opinion that they do. Makes one wonder just what Mr Scorsese understands by emotion and human psychology. One cannot doubt that Travis Bickle conveys emotion in “Taxi Driver” (1976), but is it an emotional state any more real to the average audience member than Tony Stark’s?
Bickle copes with his emotional state by picking up a gun; Stark deals with his from within an iron suit. Really, for anyone who isn’t American, which is most of the human race, the distinction is incredibly fine. Most of us cope or don’t cope without resorting to violence.
If it is just a matter of the action the anti/hero takes, then one can see Scorsese’s point – Americans deal with their shit by shooting each other, not by donning iron suits or flinging a vibranium shield around.
If it is more to do with how ordinary human beings relate to and deal with the world in which they find themselves, then he has no point whatsoever.
Restyling one’s hair into a Mohawk and posing before a mirror is emotion; realising one has been an egotistical waster is a “theme park”?
There is something revealing about a person who can see the relevance in his own work while being blind to that of others. Scorsese’s statement, I’m afraid, says far more about his perception of the world than it does about Superhero movies. One might even be tempted to wonder whether there is something of the Tony Stark in Scorsese’s comments. After all, he is basically saying “My films are cinema but yours aren’t!” And Tony is a supreme salesman of Stark Industry’s weapons of destruction.
Hollywood people, like Scorsese, get vocal when they have a product to sell and human beings often resort to attack as a form of defence. Wasn’t Scorsese being questioned over the wisdom of the limited cinematic release of “The Irishman” (2019) at the time he made this comment about Superhero movies? Even those of us who have proven ourselves time after time feel the need to go on the defensive when attacked.
It is very likely that Scorsese never actually formed a coherent opinion about Superhero movies until the moment he was asked about them. Feeling under pressure from all sides because of his latest release not even being cinema in any sense, for it was made for TV, he did what we all do so often, he lashed out at the nearest target.
Heroes have been a staple diet of human storytelling since “The Epic of Gilgamesh”, written around 3000 years ago. Since this is regarded as the earliest work of literature, heroes were literally the very first characters to occupy the screen of the human imagination. For a single individual, however respected for his achievements, to dismiss the oldest genre of imaginative fiction is laughable. One can only imagine that Scorsese really did just think of the first thing that came to him and chucked it out there without considering what he was actually saying.