Rest in peace cinema, 1894-2016. Cause of death: Martin Scorsese said so.
In an interview with the Associated Press last month, Scorsese, the illustrious director of Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, and 2017 Oscar contender Silence, said movies just ain’t what they used to be.
“Cinema is gone,” Scorsese said. “The cinema I grew up with and that I’m making, it’s gone.”
The filmmaker elaborated:
The theater will always be there for that communal experience, there’s no doubt. But what kind of experience is it going to be? Is it always going to be a theme-park movie? I sound like an old man, which I am. The big screen for us in the ’50s, you go from Westerns to Lawrence of Arabia to the special experience of 2001 in 1968. The experience of seeing Vertigo and The Searchers in VistaVision.
Scorsese argued that the “proliferation of images” on devices and screens of all kinds has made the cinematic experience less special for young audiences. “It should matter to your life,” he said. “Unfortunately the latest generations don’t know that it mattered so much.” He also complained about filmmakers’ “over-reliance on superficial techniques”—computer generated imagery now commands many blockbusters.
Ridley Scott, director of Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator, expressed a similar sentiment to Digital Spy last week.
“Cinema mainly is pretty bad,” Scott said.
While there’s a tinge of “Get off my lawn!” to these comments (Scorsese and Scott are 79 and 74, respectively), the filmmakers have a point: Cinema, objectively, isn’t what it used to be.
Last year the US box office was once again dominated by superhero films and installments in other popular franchises. In 2015, Scott’s film The Martian was one of only two original stories (that is, not part of an already established franchise) to appear in the top 10 highest grossing films that year. The other was Pixar’s Inside Out.
Scorsese blames a risk-averse, franchise-obsessed studio system for the industry’s current lack of creativity.”I’m worried about double-think or triple-think, which is [when studios] make you believe you have the freedom, but they can make it very difficult to get the picture shown, to get it made, [and] ruin reputations,” he said.
Scott, meanwhile, specifically lambasted the superhero genre, which has proliferated in recent years. “I can’t believe in the thin, gossamer tight-rope of the non-reality of the situation of the superhero,” said Scott, who directed the unrealistic, critically panned Exodus: Gods and Kings. Scott acknowledged that some of his films, like Blade Runner, are similar in nature to comic book movies, except he makes sure to have a “fucking good story,” whereas the typical superhero film, he argues, does not. He added that he’s been asked to direct several superhero films, but has turned them all down.
While Scorsese laments the death of the kind of “cinema” that existed when his career began in the 1970s, he still believes the future is bright. In a letter to his daughter written two years ago, he submitted that technology has led to a “revolution in filmmaking” that allows anyone to create movie magic on a budget. He also named many filmmakers he believes are succeeding in spite of the challenges of the current movie-making climate: Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, David Fincher, Alexander Payne, the Coen Brothers, James Gray and Paul Thomas Anderson.
Scorsese’s problem, then, isn’t with today’s filmmakers or even with the industry as a whole, it seems, but rather with big studios that greenlight each and every “theme-park movie” while making it difficult for those who are trying to tell original, passionate stories.
The Raging Bull and The Wolf of Wall Street director had famously spent decades trying to get Silence, his passion project, produced. Despite a fairly elaborate production in Taiwan, Scorsese ultimately made Silence for less than $50 million. That’s about 28% of the budget for Suicide Squad.
Because of his esteemed name, Scorsese was able to finally realize his dream. But so many other filmmakers likely won’t ever get the chance—unless their dreams are to direct the next Iron Man sequel.