Is The Irishman why we go to the movies?

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.

Netflix is so needy #validation

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.

Avengers: Age of Gluttony

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.

also thank you for this gif

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.

Oh there’s more…

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…

Is that Ray Romano?

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.

Ouch, Chairy!

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.

Don’t drag me into this! #cuttoblack

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.

You can trust the Chair

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.

God, he’s so rich

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.

I already know I’ll be a disaster during this movie

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.

… and for the popcorn #arteriesclogging #delicious

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

I have a lot of feelings, OK?!?!

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.

Muddy Waters – “Mannish Boy” (from soundtrack for The Irishman)

 

Not Joking

I’ve decided to wait a bit to see Joker.

Not that you asked and not that I’m afraid to venture out to a movie theatre showing Joker on its opening weekend.

Oh, yes.  Apparently, there is reason to be afraid.

My students actually brought this to my attention, noting more than several sets of their parents called them this week to warn them of the perils of venturing out.  These were mothers and fathers who were truly afraid their college juniors and seniors could possibly be shot at in a public venue that dared to show a movie that addressed the evolution of a cartoon villain into a gun toting vigilante who wanted revenge.

America, 2019 #sad

But it never even occurred to me to be scared and I have fears about pretty much everything.

Not being a parent and never one to miss the opening weekend of a movie I was desperate to see (Note:  Yes, I did see Judy on opening night.  Please.) I thought of venturing out to Joker.  But it wasn’t the prospect of the ridiculous crowds that go hand in hand with those huge box-office projections that made me stay home.

Reserved seating ensures you don’t have to wait in line for a ticket and I was willing to take my chances in the off chance of a flesh and blood gunman given I survived the eighties.  But, well, the rat f-ck in the parking lot, the talking in the theatre during the film, the inevitable crying kid who shouldn’t be there or texting teens with neon-screened phones who have to be there– I mean, really, I can wait.

I’m fine with this

And anyway, Martin Scorsese says any film that’s part of the Marvel Universe isn’t real cinema so I doubt that he feels any differently about DC/Batman origins.

Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” —  Martin Scorsese to Empire magazine this week.

Scorsese throws it down

If Scorsese is venting about high and low art we moviegoers are really in trouble.

Still, I get it, don’t you?  A steady diet of anything eventually makes it less special and inevitably, less than satisfying.  So how frustrating must it be for someone who is acknowledged as one of the best filmmakers of the century to watch the market for what he produces narrow further and further.

It’s the slow execution of everything he has given his life to.  The existential extinction of a widespread and very particular art form.

On the other hand, (and quite honestly) I can’t say I’m excited to see another Scorsese gangster movie, are you? Really excited?  I mean, are you really, really excited about the release of his latest three and a half hour long epic The Irishman early next month?  As excited as you were to see Goodfellas, Casino or even, say, The Departed?  Be honest.

I feel seen #truth

A superhero movie fan could argue a new gangster film from the director is the cinematic equivalent of a Scorsese theme park ride.   Others might, too.

This in no way lets the glut of Marvel/DC comic book movies off the hook.  Looking at what’s playing at what we used to refer to as real movie theatres at any given moment is a far, far cry from the last true golden age of cinema in the late sixties through the early to mid-seventies.

You know… before this #imissyoucarrie

The entertainment business has always revolved around making money, especially easy money.  So no one can blame movie studios, producers, directors, actors, et al for focusing on the broadest possible market with an emphasis on the key 18-24 year old demographic.

It’s said studios are most interested in a four-quadrant film, meaning the movie that will appeal to the widest swath of the population (Note:  What quadrant are you in?) but this is no longer the case.  It’s not even the case that whom they want to most appeal to are 18-24 year olds.

Most people when they go to a comic book movie #ifeelold

What is true is that superhero films accounted for more than 25% of total movie ticket sales last year, the equivalent of $11.38 billion.

Truth be told, this is a lot it is still far less than what we (okay I) might have imagined.  Until we realize, large as it is, it’s still a misleading statistic.  Those films might account for a quarter plus of releases but how wide of a release do the non-superhero movies get and how long do they really stick around?

In other words, 75% of the movies we have the option of going out to see might not have anything to do with Marvel or DC but if these films only play just one or two weeks in smaller, not easy to get to (or particularly desirable) theatres in not many cities, than what are the chances any of us will get to see them?  If a comic book hero is monopolizing 5 screens at an 8-screen multiplex do you want to brave the crowds on the weekend in order to see the latest indie offering starring Catherine Keener?  You might not even show up for a Jennifer Aniston rom-com or a Spike Lee joint.

Forget about the cost of a helmet or your bulletproof vest.

… and yet this is the film Catherine Keener did in 2018 #sigh

This is especially the case if you can wait a week or two and view them in the comfort of your large screened living room, which, in some cases, will offer images almost as large as the ones you might be treated to at one of the smaller multiplex screens that the non Marvel/DC movie you chose to attend would be relegated to.

It’s not an accident that Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is backed by Netflix, which will make it available online three weeks after it debuts nationwide at what Steven Spielberg refers to as real movie theatres.

in unison: “you talking to me?”

Okay, I’m paraphrasing.

What he actually said is that Netflix films (and those from other streaming services) should not receive equal treatment at the Academy Awards and should be nominated for Emmys.  His belief is once you commit to the TV format you are a television movie and not a film.

But does his point of view extend to movies primarily backed or financed by Netflix and other similar platforms?  Or does Scorsese’s The Irishman get a pass because clearly HE makes cinema?

What IS 2019 cinema, anyway?   What is NOT 2019 cinema?

.. and what the hell is this??? #geminiman

As famed multiple Oscar winning screenwriter William Goldman once said of those of us in and around the film business, nobody knows anything.

And that, unlike most of what’s offered at your local multiplex, includes everyone.

The Late Ones – “The Joker” (cover of Steve Miller Band)

Do I Have to See Endgame?

There are weeks when you simply do not know what to say.  Or write.  This is one of those weeks.

That is why I’ve been trying to listen.

I say trying because for some of us (Note:  Most especially Chairs) it IS trying.  It takes a lot of effort to listen.

If you’re truly listening you actually have to take a moment or two, or ten, to take in and think about what is being communicated to you.  It means you have to consider what the other person is saying even if your knee jerk reaction is to want to strangle them.

For instance, when I recently heard Avengers: Endgame was three hours I wanted to strangle the entire film business.  I had a lesser punishment for my students who were urging me to see it.

Me at the Arclight for the 8:00 Avengers

I wanted to strap them all to separate Chairs in the corner and make them watch a loop of Magnolia, Godfather Part II and Schindler’s List, all of which have similar running times.

Yes, that would be nine plus hours but it would take that long to teach them that at this point in their lives there are better ways to spend your movie-viewing time if you’re truly trying to learn about movies.

This is me, maybe, probably, judging you

Of course, this would have been the incorrect response for so many reasons.

First of all, I had not and didn’t plan to see Avengers: Endgame so how did I not know it wasn’t every bit as good as any of the above three?  And no, experience is not the answer.   You can’t have an experience with something you haven’t experienced.

I mean, I don’t like it when they turn their nose up at the three-hour version of one of my top 10 favorite movies, Judy Garland’s A Star Is Born.  And god knows that has happened a lot more than once,  twice 250 times.

Don’t judge me!

Second of all, don’t I teach that good and bad are relative terms and that there is no artistic hierarchy?  If this is so, then why is a mess, I mean, mass entertainment movie any less valuable to see than something we film people deem essential viewing?

::Snickers::

If one subscribes to the idea that some escapism is required from a real world that too often than not can be dark, merciless and disappointing (Note: and who doesn’t these days?) then wouldn’t watching a star-studded SUPERHERO film be just the perfect prescription for coping with the impending realities any impending college graduate is about to face?  Certainly it’s worked for much of the rest of us for generations.

Third, and lastly of all, we ignore that which has international mass appeal and popularity at our own peril.

Now you’re getting it!

No one is saying that one has to experience an In-N-Out or McDonald’s hamburger.  But if one is going to open a fast food restaurant, or any meat-serving restaurant, wouldn’t it behoove one to at least one time experience THE most successful meat product on the planet?

To NOT do so would mean a willful ignorance of the marketplace and world around one.  To close one’s ears, eyes and taste buds to what is would mean one is willfully NOT listening to what the majority of people prefer.

OK but this is a different problem all together.

To lower, or even raise one’s standards ONE TIME and try – meaning hear, see or experience – something one in no way prefers means one is purposely remaining willfully ignorant.

And we all know people who are WILLFULLY IGNORANT, right?

I DO NOT CARE HOW GOOD THIS CHICKEN IS

We know what happens when we don’t listen to and ignore the demands, tastes and preferred choices of a group large enough to be considered a MASS audience, right?

Someone can step in and serve up a modern version of the McDonald’s hamburger that is so simultaneously seductive and yet poisonous that it can bring an entire industry to its knees in submission.

It will then duplicate, replicate and otherwise dominate everything to such an extent that few other types of preferred food stuffs would be able to survive.

Thanks Chair, now I’m also thinking about dinner.

Imagine a world where one had little choice but to eat not only a fast food hamburger, but a certain type of fast food hamburger, at least periodically, for primary sustenance?

Then imagine a world where these choices extended to all of the arts and entertainment.

Then, finally, imagine what that same, seductive poisonous product could do to, say, a democracy?   What WOULD happen when so few choices were left?

That means this is a good thing right?

That and so much more is why this week and going forward I am going to do my best to try and not only listen, but HEAR.

I don’t want to live in a world where burgers, superheroes and flaccid dictatorships are my primary, and then only, options.  (Note:  That is unless I really do and this is the last reel of the original Blade Runner because I do know, that in just a few decades, I will have a chance at a sequel).

… and when I come back I will have the voice AND hair of Shawn Mendes #reincarnation

I guess what this means is that a screening of Avengers: Endgame is in my foreseeable future.   God (or whoever you deem Her to be) help me.  And us.

Judy Garland – “I Don’t Care”