(Previously on “Hollywood Curmudgeons”: Martin Scorsese remarked that Marvel Cinematic Universe films were not true “Cinema,” because they didn’t tell “human” stories, and instead focus on spectacle, but then again, people said the same thing about The Good the Bad and the Ugly, and now that’s regarded as one of the best movies ever.)
So there’s this ongoing debate about what makes true cinema – it’s become relevant again because of Martin Scorsese’s comments about the Marvel movies.
This was originally just supposed to be a post poking fun at Francis Ford Coppola, the director of The Godfather, Part III and Jack, starring Robin Williams. He recently jumped on the complain-train, doubling down on Martin Scorsese’s comments last week that the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies are “not cinema.” Coppola co-signed Scorsese’s statement, adding that Scorsese was being too kind. Most media websites ran with the headline that Coppola called the Marvel movies “despicable,” – which, he did – but the focus of his comments is similar to what Scorsese said: “We expect to learn something from cinema, we expect to gain something, some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration. I don’t know that anyone gets anything out of seeing the same movie over and over again.”
In my recommended YouTube videos, I recently received the suggested video below, of all-time great movie critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel debating the cinematic merit of Return of the Jedi. They’re brought on the segment to play devil’s advocate to John Simon, who hated all three Star Wars movies.
It’s funny because now the original Star Wars trilogy is almost universally regarded as three culturally important classics, but Simon hated it, to the point that he probably also would have used the word “despicable.” Instead, he argues that it is “dehumanizing,” “violent,” and poorly-acted. And he dismisses it as “for children,” while also arguing that it makes children less intelligent. He suggests that the movie relies so heavily on special effects, it ought to have been a cartoon.
The one very similar thing John Simon and Coppola are saying here that because these genre movies have elements that are fantastical, they can’t tell human stories. Which, as I believe I’ve mentioned previously, is kind of baloney for both Star Wars and Marvel. What’s not human about Luke looking longingly into the dual-suns of Tatooine? Or Killmonger’s speech towards the end of Black Panther? Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and Return of the Jedi both tell captivating genre stories while also tackling complex human themes of fatherhood and family.
But people like Coppola and Simon just write them off because they use special effects or make money. Their takes on popular cinema are tiring and elitist.
This is probably the last time I’ll be writing about these Hollywood curmudgeons gatekeeping what is “cinema,” and calling things that are profitable “despicable,” just because they don’t focus on mob violence, or whichever type of story these gatekeepers claim to enjoy. These headlines get fatiguing; I wish these directors would be more receptive to these genre films, but at the end of the day, their opinions (like everyone else’s) doesn’t ostensibly change anything or devalue these movies we love.
And y’know what, I think Gene Siskel shares some profound wisdom on this kind of thing when he defended Return of the Jedi to John Simon: “I thought it was a lot of fun! I feel badly, honestly, I feel badly that this other critic, John Simon, didn’t have a good time at these pictures; that’s too bad for him.”