The Sunday Magazine: Cinema or Movie?

If you’ve been keeping up with pop culture lately you will know that directors Martin Scorcese and Francis Ford Coppola leveled some criticism of the current state of moviemaking. In separate interviews in France Mr. Scorcese said, “That’s not cinema.” Referencing the Marvel movies specifically. Mr. Coppola would amplify that remark by saying, “Martin was being kind when he said it wasn’t cinema. He didn’t say it was despicable, which is what I say.” While I could attack the messengers, their thesis has merit; I will ask one simple question. Are your compatriots Steven Spielberg and George Lucas directors of “not cinema” and “despicable”? I feel pretty certain the two directors responsible for creating the blockbuster movie culture in the 1970’s is not thought of by Mr. Scorcese or Mr. Coppola in those terms. They are seen as their peers in cinema.

What all good thought processes should start with is a provocative statement. Over the last week I’ve been thinking is there a difference in the terms “cinema” or “movie”. It seems the crux of the argument being proffered is stories of depth (cinema) are being supplanted by spectacle on celluloid (movie).

Cinema or Movie Theatre?

I spent the early years of owning a VCR catching up on the classics of “cinema”. Hitchcock, Fellini, Kurosawa, Ford, Truffaut, etc. opened a whole world of storytelling to me. At the same time I was going to the theatre to see “Star Wars” and Raiders of the Lost Ark”. To me every example of a great story thrilled me. I sat in the darkness of my living room or the theatre and when it was great, I was elevated and transported. That’s the “Magic of Movies”. That is the Oscars motto every year; one I believe in. the answer to the question posed at the beginning is right there they are all movies.

Are there movies which aim for loftier themes? There are. Should that give them a different name? For me it doesn’t matter. Having a director tell me a story that is heartfelt is all I care about. That is as true for “Apocalypse Now” or “Taxi Driver” as it is for Peter Jackson’s interpretation of “Lord of the Rings”, James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy”, or Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther”. All these movies represent the reason I love the process.

If part of the thesis from Mr. Scorcese and Mr. Coppola is the best young filmmakers are being enticed to the “despicable” “not cinema” world forswearing the ability to produce something different. I would point to two recent releases which contradict that. Taika Waititi directed “Thor: Ragnarok” and his latest “Jojo Rabbit” is a whirling dervish madhouse. If you pay attention the same sense of vision in a Marvel movie extends to the not-Marvel movie. The other example is what director Todd Philips did with “Joker”. This director of comedies like “Old School” and “The Hangover” completely transformed the story of a well-known comic book character into a story which carries weight. If the concern is a young filmmaker can’t create their own space in the world of comic book movies “Joker” eradicates that argument.

I live in a place where everything I watch are movies I don’t care about cinema. Just tell me a story from your soul. That’s what makes movies great, now and forever.

Mark Behnke