After spending three and a half hours seeing Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, financed by Netflix, at a screening at the Writer’s Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills, there are lots of thoughts and feelings to be sorted out.
None of these have to do with the future of film exhibition or whether Netflix is justified in its release pattern for the new Scorsese film. For those who don’t know, that would be only eight theatres in NY and LA this week, followed by additional movie screens in more cities seven days later and, finally, its streaming debut just ten days after that (Nov. 27) for anyone with a Netflix subscription or the ability to hop on to someone else’s account.
Scorsese, who turns 77 years old on Nov. 17, is one of THE best American filmmakers of the 20th and 21st centuries, or any century. Yeah, he’s publicly expressed his disinterest in superhero films and sounded the alarm bells about a money guzzling, tent-pole-driven, market-researched-to-death movie industry obsessed with the Marvel/DC Universe at the expense of cinema dealing with humans and the complexity and nuance of their emotions.
But, for the record, he’s right about that. Most of us would tire of potato chips and chocolate bars if we ate them 75% of the time. Even if we didn’t, think of the affect it would have not only on our bodies but our souls, assuming it already hasn’t.
Point being, Scorsese not only has a good argument about what passes for present-day cinema but has earned the right to grouse. For Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Good Fellas, New York, New York, The Aviator, Casino and The Departed alone, he can opine from now until the end of time about what displeases him and/or makes him happy about any one group of films or the movie industry in general.
Which makes one wonder if the same goes for his audience. If you’ve been a Scorsese admirer and mostly loyal fan all these years, do you have the right to be disappointed in the latest entry into the master’s oeuvre that everyone else seems to be calling brilliant?
Well, of course you have the right. This is still a free(ish) country. But is it called for, or even worth it to bring up?
Yeah, it is.
Movies by their very nature are a communal experience. Sure, many of us now too often watch in the confines of our own homes, and too often do it alone. But the cinema Scorsese makes and presents is shared with others in a dark room where it’s then debated and dissected afterwards. It’s part of the gift he’s given us for over half a century and to ignore real life discussion of a new Scorsese film would be like negating the very existence of the artist himself.
So here’s the thing…
The Irishman is extremely well made, brilliantly acted and doubtless couldn’t be directed better by anyone else on the planet. But it’s as cold as a tray of ice cubes on a bleak winter’s day and about as revelatory and/or insightful.
After 209 minutes it’s difficult to not wonder aloud, Why did I just spend all of this time watching this? What did this film tell me that I didn’t already know? In what way was I touched, repelled or even slightly moved by the lives of these “wise guys” and the people around them? (Note: Not to mention, I already knew the Mob murdered Jimmy Hoffa!!!).
This is especially true if you’ve ever seen a mob film by Scorsese. Or watched one in that genre by his friend and contemporary, Francis Ford Coppola. Or even binge watched the HBO series The Sopranos.
It’s unfair to say that with The Irishman Scorsese has made his version of a sequel to a sequel of his latest superhero film. The Irishman has many flaws (Note: Despite what the critics are saying), but once it reaches the three-hour mark it forges some new ground. In its last half hour, one begins to realize why the director spent all of these years trying to make this story and why it is likely the final chapter of every mob story he has ever told.
But suffice it to say that dark and foreboding as it might be, that third act ending doesn’t so much surprise as simply…play out. It takes you down a road you didn’t expect to see onscreen but pretty much could have imagined would have happened exactly that way off screen.
Would you have imagined it, if left to your own devices? The answer is probably not if you weren’t a contemporary of Scorsese. So in that sense, it does play in to the director’s own definition of cinema and, in its way, far surpasses anything you will see in the latest Marvel/DC superhero film. Which is not to say it is Scorsese, or even cinema, at its best.
There are many different reasons why we go to the movies. Though let’s qualify that to reflect a 2019 reality. There are many different reasons why we watch movies.
Escape comes to mind. File this under the category of general entertainment. We want to laugh and forget or, if we are addicted to catharsis, we want (and need) to cry and commiserate.
Perhaps we want to feel superior to a person or class of people being portrayed onscreen. Taken one step further, we might even joyfully hate watch something we know will be hopelessly dumb, awful or not to our taste just because we can, especially if we’re the type that has no empathy for its own highly overpaid craftspeople boring us. (Note: Rest assured the latter also includes ALL of its above-the-line talent [nee actors, producers, writers AND directors] despite what they might say or admit to in interviews. Though this should never, ever include Scorsese or anyone of his caliber).
But mostly, many of us go to and/or watch movies simply because we are true blue fans, Scorsese or otherwise.
We hope for the best, realize we may be disappointed and yet still are pleased that we saw it. Some but not all of us in that category can usually find something to like in almost anything, even if it’s the good intentions of those who might have let us down. (Note: See a few paragraphs above). More importantly, there is always a chance we will see something we like, perhaps even love, and be transported.
And for that experience, we will be grateful, perhaps forever grateful.
With so many other ways to spend our time these days there is still nothing quite like sitting in the dark (or semi-dark, or even light) and watching someone else’s idea of life unfold. For a short time we get to feel something we might have never felt before, or in that particular way
There are Scorsese films where we have that for a few fleeting moments, for numerous moments or, sometimes, all the way through.
You (okay, I) want The Irishman to be the latter even though the best you can say about it is that it’s in the former. But like all great cinema, the movie and its director contain some moments where you feel as if you are in the presence of screen super heroes.
And that says something. Actually, it says a lot.