(Scorsese and Marvel: a feud of art vs commercialization, or nostalgia vs nostalgia? A tale of two perspectives through the eyes of an amateur.)
“…There’s worldwide audiovisual entertainment, and there’s cinema…”Martin Scorsese: I Said Marvel Movies Aren’t Cinema. Let Me Explain.
Above is a quote from Martin Scorsese. I beg to ask, what exactly is art? Is it something in the museums? Something we grew up listening to? Or is it the contemporary unfolding of the present?
Why can’t it be all?
Why can’t the so-called ‘commercials’ be considered art? Why can’t the so-called ‘art’ be commercialized?
This distinction goes back to the values that have daunted and loomed over us, as a society, for a long time. The values that dictate what ‘true’ art is and isn’t. Vincent Van Gogh, Emily Dickinson, Franz Kafka, Edgar Allan Poe, Galileo Galilei, and many more bear the cross for not having their art recognized in their times. Some were also criticized, made outcasts, and forced to go into hiding.
Today, they are heralded as pioneers in the artistic field. Were the people who criticized them right or wrong? Were these artists much ahead of their time? Or were these artists supposed to go through the trials of their time to succeed later? And what exactly does that success look like? Is it the acknowledgement and appreciation of the pioneers of their respective fields and the masses? Or were the critics of their time the only ones who held the key to legitimizing their works?
The simple answer is that art is subjective. No matter how revered an artist, filmmaker, writer, or scientist is. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it.
Martin Scorcese, a legendary director and the leading figure of the new Hollywood era with movies like Shutter Island, Goodfellas, Raging Bull, The Irishman, and many more, said in his interview with Empire magazine, “I don’t see them (marvel movies). I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema.” The Marvel fan army was quite offended by this remark. Although he later clarified by saying, “But I grew up when I did and I developed a sense of movies — of what they were and what they could be — that was as far from the Marvel universe as we on Earth are from Alpha Centauri.” Simply put, an acquired notion comes into effect. A play of nostalgia, perhaps? Our generation that grew up watching marvel, takes it up as ‘Earth.’ However, getting to know the existence of alpha centuries like Shutter Island, The Irishman, etc, was like getting to know that there is another refugee for the dwellers of Earth, which is a comfort beyond words.
‘I love You 3000‘- Tony Stark, Avengers: Endgame
The Irishman is an exemplary piece of art. But why can’t the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and The Irishman be exemplary together? Why does one need to lose for the other to win? Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk and Chuck are both the partners our heroes needed to overcome their adversities. Shutter Island’s Andrew Laeddis’ and Iron Man’s Tony Stark’s love for their children are both equivalent to 3000. I do not wish to distinguish the movies critically as good or bad, as it’s subjective for everyone. However, I want to comment on what art is, as Scorcese implies, artistic movies equate to good movies.
In an attempt to manifest his point of view, he elucidates, “So, you might ask, what’s my problem…In many places…around the world, franchise films are now your primary choice…on the big screen…screens in most multiplexes are crowded with franchise pictures…And if you’re going to tell me that it’s simply a matter of supply and demand…I’m going to disagree. It’s a chicken-and-egg issue. If people are…sold only one kind of thing…they’re going to want more of that…But, you might argue, can’t they…watch anything else…on Netflix…Sure — anywhere but on the big screen…they (franchise) lack something essential to cinema…financial dominance of one is being used to marginalize…the situation at this moment is brutal and inhospitable to art.” Let us look at this perspective by breaking down each argument.
First up, the chicken and egg theory doesn’t hold water here. The chains of supply and demand are broken by various ‘artistic’ movies, which are the so-called ‘non-traditional’ cinema. The audience is the one with the real power in choosing the movie they wish to see on big screens, as they are the ones who set trends into motion. Hence, critically acclaimed films break the barriers of language, overcome regional biases, and even after not being ‘commercial pieces’ win acclaimed awards, the Academy Awards or Oscars being one of them. On the other hand, Fantastic Four and Avengers Age of Ultron, part of the MCU franchise, can flop at the box office.
It seems as if it is not a battle of commercialization, but rather the notion of keeping up with changing tastes and not discarding contemporary art for the nostalgic past. Well, a part of me is biased. Having grown up in a world where the MCU was my childhood, a part of me still roots for Marvel projects, and so does Scorcese. Then why can’t my nostalgia and his nostalgia co-inhabit the cinema without the former being disregarded as commercial and the latter being discarded as reminiscences of the past? Can’t our generations respectfully enjoy both spectrums? The same individual can enjoy The Irishman and have a soft spot for a Marvel movie, but go on to hate its sequel. This is the beauty of cinema, the fact that it binds and holds, and reflects the varied tastes of an individual, sometimes beckoning tastes that the audience was unaware of, and creating new ones as well.
Stan Lee, bless his soul, was a gifted writer, and the computer-generated imagery (CGI) effect producers of action movies are nothing short of artists when they bring impossible imagery to the realm of cinema. The vision of the directors and the scriptwriters do the impossible by connecting a three-generational, multi-movie cinematic universe. The Marvel Cinematic Universe — a universe penned by one man, illustrated by dozens, acted out by hundreds, brought to life by thousands, and home to a million hearts—if that isn’t artistic enough, then what is art? Maybe Marvel will be acknowledged after a century or so, but who knows?