What is Cinema?

I just realized that when I haven’t been writing in a while, I feel the need to start anything I do write with some kind of disclosure. So…This is it. I’m disclosing that I haven’t been writing in a while, and there are reasons. But…This isn’t why I’m writing now. Get it? Got it? Good.

Actually, I will begin this journal entry with a disclosure. I probably shouldn’t be tossing my hat into this conversation. The one about cinema. The one I read online, and you may have too, regarding Martin Scorsese’s comments about cinema, to be exact. You see, Scorsese doesn’t feel that Marvel movies are “cinema”.

Naturally, half of the known world, the half that has spent billions of dollars on Marvel movies, costumes, conventions, books, television etc., etc., etc., got pretty heated. Cue Bob Iger, Disney CEO. Oh, since we’re talking about disclosures…Disney owns Marvel. So, Iger has a horse in the race here.

All of this begs the question – What is cinema?

Naturally, I have an opinion. I was hesitant about offering that opinion, though, because who the hell am I? I’m not an Academy award winning producer or director like Scorsese. Or like Francis Ford Coppola, who pushed his chips all in supporting Scorsese when he said he feels Marvel films are “despicable”.

I’ll side with Bob Iger and agree to reserve the sentiment of “despicable” for mass murderers. Or even narcissists and sycophants. Or lima beans. But I digress.

It occurred to me, though, that I’m a movie-goer. That I do have an opinion. And that, on a completely different scale than those people I’ve mentioned, I am also a filmmaker. So, why shouldn’t I take advantage of the enormous clout I have with my three readers and offer that opinion??

Of course, nothing is a straight line with me. Before we talk about the aforementioned controversy, let’s revisit our question. What is cinema?

If you agree with Merriam-Webster and the wise old sage Wikipedia, the term cinema is derived from the cinematograph, which was one of the first ever motion picture camera/projectors, invented in 1892 by French inventor Léon Bouly. The term cinematograph means “writing in movement”. Can we all agree with Merriam-Webster, then, that cinema simply means “moving pictures”? Great. Moving right along…

In 1902, another Frenchman, Georges Méliès, directed one of the most influential short films of all time, Le Voyage dans la Lune. It’s a black and white silent film depicting a group of men’s adventures traveling to the moon. The shot of the space capsule landing in the eye of the man in the moon is one of the most iconic ever shot on film or digital. Méliès’ film was shot a mere ten years after the invention of the cinematograph. One of the earliest known films, and one of the mediums most significant, was a science-fiction fantasy masterpiece. A spectacle.

Fast forward 117 years.

I, myself, got pretty riled up about the entire conversation surrounding Scorsese’s comments not when he first said them, or when Coppola backed him up, or when various others chimed in with their own opinions. Nope. I got riled up over an article I read on The Verge, where the author of the article is attempting to clarify Scorsese’s comments by highlighting the nature of financing in filmmaking today. A comment left on the article continues that argument, stating that Scorsese is frustrated because he can’t get big studios to finance his projects.

Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait….

That’s a hard no, for me. I’m not buying it. And if that’s really the argument, then Scorsese should have the intestinal fortitude to just come out and say that. His initial quote includes this line “It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”

He’s talking about communication, folks. Communication. He’s pontificating on the importance of our ability as human beings to bestow ourselves to others. To share an intimacy with another person. To be vulnerable. To be ourselves in a way the other person understands us better. That is Scorsese’s definition of cinema.

Is that the argument? Is that Marty’s argument?? If so, then it needs to be the argument. That Scorsese’s definition of cinema, and dismissive perspective of Marvel films, requires intimate emotional and psychological themes.

More importantly, Scorsese should be clear these are his opinions. That’s the most critical aspect missing from his entire quote. This is just his opinion. He’s allowed to have one. We all are, hence one of us is writing to his three readers. Scorsese is a craftsman, himself one of the most influential filmmakers in history. I love a lot of his work. Not all, but most. He is a lifelong student of the medium. He has an opinion. I respect that. I appreciate it’s different. But don’t kick other lifelong students, professionals, craftsman and influential filmmakers in the teeth by not admitting these are opinions. Respect.

I don’t completely disagree with Scorsese’s comments, anyway. His films, and Copolla’s films, are not Marvel films. I mean, I write books and nobody is comparing me to Tolstoy. Does that mean my work isn’t literature? Who defines literature?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing myself to Tolstoy either.

I’m just not going to disrespect authors like me (or E.L. James, for that matter) because what we do isn’t Anna Karenina. Or even Moby Dick, Little Women or The Old Man and the Sea. We write, we have an audience. That dynamic duo of Merriam and Webster tell us that literature is writings in prose or verse. Sure, they highlight that literature is especially relevant to “writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest”. But seriously…Who the hell is the expert on this??

Isn’t the buying public the expert?

And maybe that is Scorsese’s frustration. He can’t get his kind of art made because people don’t buy it on the scale they buy Marvel movies. I totally understand that kind of frustration. That’s like not being picked for the team, even though you have talent to contribute to the game. And for Scorsese, that has to sting a little considering he may have walked on water through the Seventies and Eighties.

All of this is to say that his comments should still be reflected as his opinion. They are his side of the story. They aren’t fact. This isn’t math, where everyone agrees 2+2=5 is incorrect. Well, most people. But I digress.

These are Scorsese’s opinions. I agree with them. And I disagree with them. Imagine, though, if he had come out and said these were his opinions. That they are borne from the frustration of being such a sought after auteur, with still so many incredible stories to tell, but unable to find the money to tell them. That he wishes his art was as marketable and consumed as Marvel films. That he is sad for storytellers like him, and maybe he feels even a little rejected because of the state of the industry today. Wouldn’t we be more drawn toward sympathy for that confession?

Because wouldn’t that conversation be emotional and psychologically intimate. And honest?

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