Scorsese’s and Coppola’s comments about the MCU strike at a much bigger issue. Who defines “art”?

When leaders in any field imply they hold the definition of what makes the very fabric of that field, it is the height of hubris.

Well, the internet blew up again this weekend. But thankfully, instead of “political Twitter” it was filmmaking Twitter.

Francis Ford Coppola, one of the most revered filmmakers of the modern era, was being interviewed at the Lumière Festival in Lyon, France this weekend (where he was being honored with the Lumière, when he made this comment about the Marvel Cinematic Universe of films:

Martin was kind when he said it’s not cinema. He didn’t say it’s despicable, which I just say it is.”

This was in solidarity with his friend and fellow living-legend Martin Scorsese who blew up filmmaking Twitter a few weeks ago when he equated the Marvel movies as “amusement parks” and not real cinema.


Imagine if Luciano Pavarotti said that Beyonce’s music, as popular and fun as it is, is not real music.

Or what if Yo-Yo Ma proclaimed that as cool as The Edge’s guitar riff’s are, what he and U2 do are not real music.

The whole world would most likely lose their collective ish! Well, I contend that these comments are just as transgressive.

This is the same kind of prideful, ignorant, and self-important arrogance some book authors had towards the printed inspiration upon which these films are based—that comic books aren’t real “books.”

Furthermore, it’s what some people used to say about gangster films (a genre which brought both Scorsese and Coppola fame). Guardians of the Galaxy writer/director put it perfectly this past weekend:

At the core of this whole controversy is the definition of “art” (and I throw Spielberg’s comments about Netflix films and QT’s comments about anything shot digitally). When the trailblazers and leaders of any art form make comments that go beyond just sharing an opinion, but cast judgment on what is deemed art, it’s the height of hubris and it causes unnecessary divisiveness. We look to leaders in any industry to uplift, not tear down.

Let me be clear: I’m not taking away from all they’ve done respectively to uplift the industry. I’m sure in some weird way, they think these kinds of elitist comments are for the betterment of cinema.

Regardless of how sensitive we artists are, most of us can take it if someone doesn’t connect with what we make. We understand that art is personal. It might not feel good to me if you dislike the art I make, but as an artist, I respect your opinion and accept that comes with “the job” of being an artist. Some people will like your work, and some won’t.

But to say that what I make as an artist doesn’t matter, or really isn’t “art” is perhaps the most despicable thing you can say to ANY artist. And to have respected leaders in the industry say such things feels akin to a parent telling his young, aspiring child, “You have no value.”

Stop and think for one second of the literally thousands of people who worked on those films who were inspired by the likes of Spielberg, Scorsese, and Coppola. To have them say such things is beyond soul-crushing. Not just to those filmmakers, but to other aspiring filmmakers who were themselves inspired by the Marvel films.

Your work has no value beyond a superficial need to scratch an entertainment itch. But it’s not real art. (I wonder if he was sipping a cup of tea with his pinky extended when he made this comment. I suspect he was.)

Not to mention, both their comments about what one does or doesn’t learn or “get” from such films is just patently false. Coppola 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.

Hmmm? Like the same gangster movies over and over again? Or a 5th installment of a swashbuckling Archeologist (because, you know, the last one with the UFOs or whatever was the paragon of “cinema”?)

I’m not sh*tting on Italian mob pics or even yet another stab at Indiana Jones donning his fedora and whip. But come on. Seems like a lot of stone throwing in glass houses.

And can we look at the body of work that made up Steven Spielberg’s early career. Jaws practically defined the modern blockbuster. E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Art, Howard the Duck (cough, cough). I bet you a million cubits that neither Coppola nor Scorsese would denigrate Spielberg’s body of work.

And how is the fight scene from Scorsese’s Gangs of New York any higher “art” than any battle at the end of an MCU film? Is it because it’s more graphic and less CGI? Does a fight scene have to make one physically ill from the depiction of blood splattering left and right for it to be elevated to real art?

Do I really need to list all the worthwhile themes explored in the MCU? Friendship. Loyalty. Love. Sacrifice. Family. Dealing with trauma. Purpose. There were people CRYING in Avengers: Endgame. They were palpably moved by the events of that film because of a well-crafted series of stories over a long period of time. They connected with the characters. They saw versions of their own lives. They related to the loss of loved ones.

Those feelings were real. Much of the acting presented on screen was sublime. Both the technical and storytelling aspects of the MCU were executed at the highest levels of the craft. IMHO, there is nothing more “artful.”

Why it matters

The irony of comments like this is in a way they will tarnish their legacy. The more that revered filmmakers like Coppola say things like this, the less relevant they become (which, honestly, is probably what’s prompting these comments). It’s like they are sealing their fate to go out as once-great filmmakers whose later worked wasn’t, and they whined about the stuff that was.

They will reduce the desire for new filmmakers to look to them for advice and inspiration. As physical film schools eventually go the way of the dinosaur, and more and more filmmakers learn from online courses (love it or hate it, that’s life), the internet will be filled with comments from “old guys” saying empirically stupid sh*t. Why in the world would I want to learn from someone like that if I’m an up and coming filmmaker. It’s like their comments will in essence ensure MORE films like the ones they despise because who the hell wants to learn from a “grandpa” so out of touch.

Again, to be clear. The issue is not that Coppola and Scorsese don’t like these films. If their comments acknowledged the artistry that goes into making them, but they said for X-Y-and Z reasons they don’t connect with them, that would be cool. Everyone is entitled to their opinion about art and I doubt you’d see the kind of backlash that yo’ve seen.

But this is just the latest in a long line of revered filmmakers proclaiming what they feel is or isn’t “real” cinema.

I see people on Twitter making comments about Marvel movies just being about money. Or how they’re all about CGI and popcorn entertainment. And there may be some truth to both of those statements, but neither disqualifies them from being art or “real” cinema.

This whole trend of these filmmakers making comments like this is frustrating and disturbing because these are people we have come to love and respect. Honestly, it’s like finding out your next door neighbor of 10 years is aTrump supporter. (As promised, my requisite Trump dig in every movie or TV related article. )

It’s the leaders and the teachers in the industry, people we are supposed to be able to trust and learn from, committing what is the equivalent of cinematic apostasy. It would be like a priest teaching that Jesus never really existed or something.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, chances are that if you’re a filmmaker or cinephile, you’ve already debated this ad nauseam and have spent way more time than any individual should. But, that’s no surprise. We’re filmmakers. This is what we do. Tell a room of filmmakers split evenly about the Star Wars prequels and the original trilogy, and I guarantee you’ll end up with blood bath not unlike that Gangs of New York battle scene I shared.

What do you think? Is this all much ado about nothing?

Also published on Medium.

Whatchoo think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.