How much money would you trust this person with?
United Artists had recently needed to answer that question not just for Cimino, but also as it applied to Martin Scorsese. The director had begun work in 1979 on what endures as one of his masterpieces: 1980’s Raging Bull. As odd as it sounds now, Scorsese was then possessed of the notion that Raging Bull would be his last picture. This was part of the reason that he, too, fought hard with UA, particularly in the grueling and complex editing process, which the studio perceived to be taking too long. The movie tells the true story of boxer Jake LaMotta, and the boxing scenes, in particular, needed to be perfectly arranged as to how both the shots and sound were cut. For this, Scorsese worked intricately with (among others) Thelma Schoonmaker, the brilliant editor of most of the director’s work (up to and including The Irishman), whom many believe a key to his continuing success and a definite piece of evidence supporting Kael’s collaborative view of film as an art. Raging Bull’s box office gross barely exceeded its $18m budget, and the movie polarized critics, but today it is universally recognized as a contender for possibly the best work that both Scorsese and star De Niro (as LaMotta) have ever done. Many (including the American Film Institute, who put it at #24 on their list) consider it one of the greatest films of all time. De Niro took home Best Actor for the role, but for Best Director and Best Picture, as usual, Scorsese was shut out, this time by Robert Redford’s Ordinary People.
Raging Bull is obviously very different than Heaven’s Gate. But when considering the end of the New Hollywood, both function as strong reasons why it wouldn’t be in the interest of a studio to ever indulge a picky director again. Bull, I should mention, is a film that UA gave Scorsese fully eighteen million dollars in 1979 to make in black and white. It was not commercially-minded. If Scorsese did think it was the last big feature he would ever make, he probably wasn’t alone.
In that New York Times piece, Scorsese devoted some space to defending the fact that he would publicly criticize Marvel at all:
So, you might ask, what’s my problem? Why not just let superhero films and other franchise films be? The reason is simple. In many places around this country and around the world, franchise films are now your primary choice if you want to see something on the big screen. It’s a perilous time in film exhibition, and there are fewer independent theaters than ever. The equation has flipped and streaming has become the primary delivery system. Still, I don’t know a single filmmaker who doesn’t want to design films for the big screen, to be projected before audiences in theaters.
The words are timely, nobody could deny. The box office data every weekend (and every year) is a long list of franchise films, remakes, reboots, reshoots, and reshapes, but seldom is it ever traceable back to an original idea. The MCU is only part of a bigger trend. Even if you removed it from the equation, only the most naive would think its absence would be filled by small, intimate films, or even grandiose original ones. It’s very difficult to imagine Avatar, a film I despise, for which 20th Century Fox put up $237m about a decade ago, getting made today. That film was not based on a book or prior movie, but just an idea James Cameron had. Cameron, mind you, was at that time the reigning champion behind the biggest box office success of all time, Titanic. But it’s hard to imagine even that movie, with its $200m budget and untested stars, getting made today either. Both of those movies, it was feared, would prove to be big budget disasters on the order of Heaven’s Gate. Jordan Peele’s Us received a lot of attention for being a big success this year based on an original concept, but it was one he delivered for only $20m. However you want to measure it, Scorsese is right. The moviegoing experience has permanently changed and we are not given choices that were widely available not long ago.
But what nobody is going to tell him, because anybody in that conversation has an interest in this not being the case, is that movie exhibition is probably just an untenable business. He wants to see his movies, and ones like them, played across the big screen, and that’s going to be less and less practical as the 21st century progresses. 100 years ago, it was the only way to watch a movie (other than through a nickelodeon), so hordes of the public could be counted on to fill the theater. There was no TV, and barely even radio, let alone anything by which we consume the internet in all its forms today. Space, in any American community, was not at a premium either. Even when Scorsese started making movies in the late 60’s, the Brooke Amendment capped public housing rent at 25% of the resident’s income, a benchmark that economists judged to be wise for people at all income levels to apply to their housing cost. It was raised to 30% in the 80’s, and now since nobody wants to raise it further, we who rent (and many paying a mortgage) can merely laugh at the fact that economists once thought of this “rule of thumb” as practical, as we write checks that threaten to split our bank accounts like so many James Cameron’s Titanics. The point being, space costs more now.
Where I live, in California, we are said to be in the middle of a “housing crisis.” It is certainly true that we have a large homeless population, and a much larger population that can barely afford to rent, and then another population always in danger of losing a home they own. Our real estate prices are very high here, but nowhere in the country are they cheap. This market (like the one in 2006) could easily crash, resulting in a major haircut to many pieces of property. However, the fire sale price is still going to be quite high. The question is this: how many square feet does your local movie theater comprise? How many acres does it sit on? Is there another use for that land that’s going to generate more money than the showing of movies?
Sadly, the answer to this last question is yes, no matter who you are or where you live. 100 years ago it was different, because not only was the land of a relative lesser value, but a movie theater could count on plenty of people from your community showing up, even at odd hours. I used to go to matinees in the 90’s and they were much fuller than I find them to be now, when I bother to go. Which is rarely. I wanted to see Joker this year, and I could have, but I repeatedly put it off because it was not convenient. I waited for it to appear on iTunes (before it was available on a streaming service or to rent) where I paid $20 to own it, because it was still a better deal than going to the theater.
The theater experience has changed. It’s not the place I used to go in the 90’s to watch Scorsese classics like Casino or Bringing Out the Dead. The movie theater seems to want to be all things to all people these days. It’s a restaurant. It’s a bar. It has heated seats that recline. You select where you want to sit ahead of time. And so on and so on, all of it implicating a single concept: desperation. This would all be fine; a new, preferable experience, except for one thing: they want us to pay for it. It’s crazy how much it costs to go to the movies now. Even if you don’t indulge in all those luxuries, you’re still looking at paying somewhere between 10 and 20 dollars for the privilege. A quick perusal just now of my local theater, an ordinary, non-luxury one, reveals that if I want to catch Bad Boys for Life, the number one movie this weekend, at 7:00pm, I’ll need to pay $13.45. I can buy my tickets online, in fact it’s even necessary to, if I want to get a good seat, but for that I must pay a “convenience fee” of $1.79. This, in a world where e-commerce is ubiquitous and known for costing less, not more. For my local Major League Baseball team, the Anaheim Angels, tickets start at only $9. And you can see the action from any seat in that stadium. And somehow, something about this experience is supposed to be superior to sitting around in my underwear, in the privacy of my own home, while Jaoquin Phoenix terrorizes an environment you might call pre-Giuliani Gotham City. And My 50-inch 4K Smart TV only cost $300.
Scorsese’s right. It is better to watch some movies on the big screen, perhaps the ones that are least like the MCU and arguably the most cinematic—though I know that sentence would enrage Marvel’s acolytes. I desperately wanted to see The Irishman (literally the only movie I was excited about this year) in the theater before it came to Netflix, but it didn’t come to my area. So I watched it at home the week of Thanksgiving, and I still loved it. It wasn’t a perfect movie, but none is, and he clearly still has the touch. But was it worth $140m? Not my $140m, if I were asked to underwrite it. But as just one thing I enjoy with my Netflix subscription, a product I use almost daily? This is a product I pay $12.99 every month for, less than that Bad Boys ticket would cost me tonight. If I want to go out, well, I live in Southern California and it’s beautiful nearly every day of the year. I can go to the beach for free.
And this picture I paint is what theatrical exhibition has to compete with. Scorsese, for a guy who likes the big screen, can’t look at the big picture. The Marvel movies are going to go the way of the dinosaur too. It won’t be long before nearly every theater in this country is either bulldozed or repurposed into something else. The real irony is, that when this happens, movies like Scorsese’s are the only ones that are still going to play in theaters. Specialty theaters will survive. Los Angeles is full of them and that won’t change. The Egyptian in Hollywood—which is just now ending a month of running Scorsese and De Niro’s collaborations together—will be doing what it does for a long time to come. Quentin Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema, where you can often catch great movies from the New Hollywood period, is going to last too. Nearby, the ArcLight, which shows a mix of big and small movies and would have been considered a megaplex just a generation ago, will probably last. This will always be a big town for the movies. But the Marvel stuff will all transition to streaming. That’s why Disney+ had such a massive rollout this year, and why the company is all too happy to price it at $6.99 a month, well below most of their competitors. They’re trying to seize the real estate that they still can: in your living room and on your credit card bill.
Scorsese wrote his piece as though he’s unaware of this inevitability. You can’t blame him, because when the New Hollywood died, it went very much the way he thinks franchise pictures are going to go. A young person today might not know it, but they built the megaplexes specifically to accommodate the franchises. When I was growing up, any city of any reasonable size had multiple theaters: the new one, that showed six, eight, maybe even twelve different movies, and at least one smaller theater that had only one or two screens. Today, the latter is all but gone from American society. This is a land use trend that is broadly occurring in our society: an entity (here, the megaplex) that, if we’re honest, we remember as having destroyed a small business in our lifetime, is seen as an institution, the loss of which sparks a reactionary response as though it threatens our communities. You’ll see it soon happen to the malls, to the extent it isn’t already. I’ve seen at least multiple posts on social media in recent weeks bemoaning the loss to my community of an Albertsons store, a division of the Supervalu corporation, who had revenue on the order of $12.5b last year. I haven’t lived here that many years, but I know Albertsons hasn’t, either.
What Scorsese doesn’t say, but he must know, is that he once contributed to the displacing of a cinema that many held sacred. The old studio system, or the Golden Age of Hollywood, was just about finally dead by the time Scorsese started making movies, but there were plenty of people leftover who were sad to see it go. Golden Age iconography is still with us today, even if mostly relegated to its late-stage greats: Marylin Monroe, James Dean, Elvis. These stars and their films are still held sacred by a lot of people. I doubt Scorsese, growing up when he did, would tell you otherwise. But there was not room for both him and those things to exist in the New Hollywood. In 1970, somebody thought they were going to be the next James Dean, specifically, and you’ve never heard of them because there just wasn’t a market for that anymore. Instead they sold insurance, or maybe died of a drug overdose instead. Perhaps both.
The point is, change is sad. It’s not always sad for you but it’s always sad for somebody. And for somebody else, like Martin Scorsese in 1976, it’s great. But not for Martin Scorsese in 2020. For lack of a better way to explain how society and culture operate, this seems to just be the way things go.
The popular narrative is that the 80’s were a rough time for the kinds of filmmakers who thrived in the New Hollywood. The money-people wanted more like Star Wars, and less like Heaven’s Gate, and who could blame them? Again, Heaven’s Gate ended up costing $44m in a year when the impossible-to-fail The Empire Strikes Back cost only $23m. So the 80’s were unleashed upon the public in a spectacle as close to Scorsese’s scenario where “people are given only one kind of thing” as you’ll ever see. Some of it was good: we got E.T., three Back to the Futures, and three Indiana Jones movies. Some of it was bad: we got seven Police Academy movies. Some of it was mixed. We got Schwarzenegger, Rambo, and enough horror franchise pictures to fill an entire October and then some. It was a big time for movies. Teenage boys fueled the expansion of the franchise industry through “repeat viewing,” and video tapes grew it even beyond that. There was a lot of work if you were in show business.
There was even work for Michael Cimino. By 1985, Dino De Laurentiis was willing to give the director $25m to make Year of the Dragon with Mickey Rourke. To show all those people who called The Deer Hunter racist, Cimino crafted a movie that was as racist against Asians as any I have ever seen, though in fairness, much of the criticism heaped upon it in this vein are things which should apply to Full Metal Jacket and all those other Vietnam movies that have somehow escaped such scorn. However, some credits (including Roger Ebert and Rex Reed) did like it, and Tarantino calls it one of his favorite movies. But it bombed, and after Cimino wandered away from its still smoking ashes he took $16.5m and made The Sicilian, an adaptation of Godfather-writer Mario Puzo’s novel of the same name. Ever the francophile, Cimino cast the very un-Sicilian Christopher Lambert (yes, from Highlander) in the titular role. I wish that were the only problem with this very troubled movie, but Cimino’s ego over keeping the film’s running time extra-long led, this time, to a dramatic court battle with the producers. Cimino lost, and a judge endorsed the view that the director had lied by hiding information from the Sicilian’s producers about his actual contract on Year of the Dragon. The Sicilian now stands at a tight (for Cimino) 115 minutes, but I don’t recommend any of them to you. It proved a substantially more severe bomb than Dragon, earning only $5.4m. Then he took another $18m and used it to create the Mickey Rourke bomb Desperate Hours in 1990. Even after all of this colossal failing, Regency Enterprises entrusted Michael Cimino with $31m for something called The Sunchaser with Woody Harrelson in 1996. The internet insists, from all the sources I can track down, that somehow this movie earned only $21,508.00, a number too specific to be a lie. Little else can be said about The Sunchaser (because I haven’t seen it), aside from this portion of the film’s Wikipedia page, which I reproduce here in its entirety:
Mickey Rourke, a collaborator and friend of Cimino’s, believes the director “snapped” sometime during the making of The Sunchaser. “Michael is the sort of person that if you take away his money he short-circuits,” Rourke says. “He is a man of honor.” Rourke did not say how or why Cimino “snapped.”
Joe D’Augustine, the film’s editor, recalls his first meeting with Cimino: “It was kind of eerie, freaky. I was led into this dark editing room with black velvet curtains and there was this guy hunched over. They bring me into, like, his chamber, as if he was the Pope. Everyone was speaking in hushed tones. He had something covering his face, a handkerchief. He kept his face covered. And nobody was allowed to take his picture […] Welcome to Ciminoville.
After that, Cimino became reclusive, and radically altered his appearance. He got much thinner and had extensive cosmetic surgery, though he refused in interviews to elaborate on why, aside from claiming some vague problem with his teeth (Ciminoville, indeed.) There were rampant rumors that he was transitioning genders, and all of the press which reported them speak in tones for which any reputable journalist would be fired today. The 2002 Vanity Fair piece is particularly offensive. At one point, the reporter writes, “I tell [Cimino] I have heard that many transsexuals regret it or simply go mad. ‘How could you not?’ He says. ‘How the fuck could you not, for Chrissakes?’” Obviously, these were rumors the director fervently denied. What his particular gender identity was, I can’t say. In the final interview he gave before he died, The Hollywood Reporter’s Abramovitch raised the issue again, pointing to the how far society’s views had come since 2002, but Cimino appeared to grow agitated and called the subject “bullshit.” Whatever Michael Cimino’s internal perception of himself was, there’s no denying it caused him to undergo an extreme physical transformation late in his life. Commenting on facial surgeries, this is what appears in the 2002 Vanity Fair piece:
Then there is the matter of jaw surgery. “I didn’t have the right alignment of my jaw,” he says. “My teeth are fine, but my mouth is too small. The doctor reshaped the whole back of my mouth, and re-aligned all my teeth. I had all kinds of braces, and shit and crap. A couple of years ago I had a guy do the front.… And what it does is, it changes your face, it changes the shape of your face. So, in addition to losing all the fat on your face, the slightest thing you do to your teeth alters the shape of your face.”
Look at the pictures here, and tell me if you think this explains the difference between them, or if you know a person who has had an experience similar to what Cimino described. I don’t, and I don’t. Whatever his more detailed views on the self he crafted were, it would appear he took them to his grave.
Then, in 2016, at the presumed age of 77, Cimino died. It was not immediately known how. He was not known to be ill. Variety wrote in their obituary for the director, “His career is a cautionary tale for Hollywood, about the eternal conflict between artistry and finance, with side battles between creative people and the media.”
Anyone who’s seen The Deer Hunter remembers its final scene. In a film full of scenes that linger in one’s memory long after the details of an ordinary film have faded from it, it is one of the most downbeat and least visually remarkable, but nevertheless it has a powerful force. The main characters have returned to the local bar that serves as a kind of centerpiece to the first act, to commiserate after a funeral that they could not prevent, despite Michael’s desperate attempts to. Spontaneously, they break into song, but the moment is unlike perhaps any other in film that those words describe. The song: “God Bless America,” and while it isn’t an ironic moment, it isn’t any kind of straightforward display of patriotism either. It’s very hard to describe. It was polarizing from almost the moment the script was written. When Cimino showed the film to Universal-parent-MCA’s chariman Lew Wasserman and his lieutenant, Sid Sheinberg, they were extremely upset by this scene. To Vanity Fair in 2008, producer Barry Spikings recalled Sheinberg as having said something to the effect of, “You’re poking a stick in the eye of America.” When it was actually released, with a solid segment of the critical community viewing it as some macho celebration of the war, an opposite interpretation of the scene was expressed, while others were generally confused about whether it was ironic or not. Personally, I take none of these views. To me, it is patriotic, but it contemplates the fact that patriotism is a weird baseline in American identity that we take for normally granted, and only really emerges to seem significant at times when we don’t know what the fuck else to do, which is the position the characters are in when they sing the song.
This is very much how post-9/11 patriotism felt. I was 18 and I lived in Massachusetts. Both of the planes that hit the World Trade Center had departed Logan Airport in Boston, about 40 miles from my house. One of the planes had been a Tuesday, 8am American Airlines flight to Los Angeles. My dad and I had tickets for the same flight for the following Tuesday, so that I could visit USC, where I hoped to eventually study film. There was no particular reason we chose one week over another. That trip never happened, nor did any academic career for me at that school. Nothing like this had ever happened before and it all felt very real and close to our lives. On 9/11, in the early evening when all the planes had been grounded and it seemed like a day that had kept getting worse after it appeared it couldn’t possibly get worse was finally done getting worse, I went to the town common with two friends, and we held American flags. We were immediately joined by a random group of girls whom we did not know. They had made signs. I don’t remember what they said. But we held the signs with them. We all waved at cars. We didn’t know what the fuck else to do. Nobody felt any particular way except for a general sense of dread. When I watch the song in the final minutes of The Deer Hunter today, this is what I think about. They may have had no actual connection to the war all, but somebody who made The Deer Hunter really understood something about what real life actually feels like.
In July of 2016, many years after Pauline Kael had taken her last breath, Richard Brody eulogized Michael Cimino in the pages of The New Yorker. He said a lot of things about the director’s work that don’t ring true for me, and probably just as many that did. He simultaneously diminished the importance of The Deer Hunter, calling it the “least visually distinguished” of Cimino’s career—an absurd claim that leads one to suspect his impressions of the director’s oeuvre are less than recent—while devoting fully half of his entire piece to this film. But there was one thought in Brody’s statement that perplexed me: he believes that The Deer Hunter owed all of five the Academy Awards it won to that final scene, and the rendition of “God Bless America.” I do not know whether I agree or disagree with this assertion. Unlike so many of the film’s scenes, there’s nothing in this one that “drives” the narrative, but at the same time, if you removed it, I can’t deny the possibility that I might walk away having had an entirely different experience of this movie. I could speculate for the rest of my life and never know the answer, and this statement is one that could apply so broadly to Michael Cimino as an artist and a person.
I don’t share the preceding information just to put a coda on the Cimino story. All the the contradictions and questions, however impossible to answer, are really key to understanding this period in cinematic history. In the New Hollywood, a movie didn’t have to be sure of what it meant. But if there is a point to be drawn from the story, a takeaway or log line, it is this: Michael Cimino directed four films after Heaven’s Gate, with combined budgets totaling over $80m. This is how much money Hollywood was willing to trust Michael Cimino with in the 15 years after he lost their $44m on Heaven’s Gate. It is truly a remarkable business.
But if Cimino got that many chances, when did the New Hollywood die? Francis Ford Coppola was making Apocalypse Now (as good a story as anything you’ve learned here about Cimino can be found in the documentary Hearts of Darkness) during the same time The Deer Hunter and Heaven’s Gate were in production (it took that long.) It performed admirably, if not becoming quite a huge hit. Nevertheless, Coppola kept making movies, some of them great, most of them awful. Coming Home director Hal Ashby died in 1988 after a long battle with substance abuse, but he kept making movies with tens of millions of dollars of other people’s money almost to the very end. Even Chinatown director Roman Polanski, who literally had to flee the United States to avoid rape charges, never to return, continued to make mainstream, if artsy, Hollywood movies with large budgets. He just had to shoot them in Europe. Nobody’s career ended when the house lights came up for Jaws, Star Wars, or Heaven’s Gate. The New Hollywood never died, and plenty of iconoclastic new directors interested in making high commercial art, like Oliver Stone and Ridley Scott, joined its ranks. The popular narrative about the greatest era in American cinema ending is mythology.
But the 80’s also had an undercurrent of extreme art cinema. Earlier, I mentioned the work of David Lynch and of Jim Jarmusch. Both are directors who have flirted with mainstream movies, but generally did (and do) specifically subversive work with a dedicated cult following. The work most associated with Lynch are his dark, surreal, unconventional narratives, like Eraserhead and Blue Velvet. Jarmusch’s early work, like Permanent Vacation and Stranger than Paradise, are downbeat tales of ordinary people. For all the art credibility that the New Hollywood had, there was really no room in it for directors like these. Viewed most cynically, many of the most groundbreaking New Hollywood films were cravenly commercial—Bonnie and Clyde is a gangster picture in the tradition of many tried and true to the genre that came before it. Easy Rider cashes in on the adopted identity of a generation that loves to be marketed to, and the million dollars they invested in licensing contemporary music for the movie speaks volumes to this point. The Graduate does the same thing, with its tale of directionless new boomer adulthood and use of catchy Simon and Garfunkel tunes. Even Ashby’s bizarre Harold and Maude relies heavily on Cat Stevens to get its point across, whatever that is. And in every case, it works. These movies might have done things nobody had ever seen on film before, but they wrapped those things in packages they hoped would appeal to the masses. Even Coming Home and The Deer Hunter capitalize on the country’s latent need to reconcile itself with Vietnam, now that the war has been three years in the rear view mirror.
Neither got it right. Neither Cimino, Jane Fonda, Robert De Niro, or Hal Ashby fought in that war, and there were always going to be limitations on how functional their portrayals were. None of their work matches the verisimilitude of infantryman Tim O’Brien’s 1990 story collection, The Things They Carried, or of Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient Oliver Stone’s Vietnam movies. I don’t believe any non-soldier artist got it right, in that era, until 1982. That was the year Billy Joel released his album The Nylon Curtain, which included the song “Goodnight Saigon.” Like Coming Home and The Deer Hunter, this song makes it about the soldiers, not the war they fought. But more like Deer Hunter, it doesn’t have to be viewed through a particular political lens. Joel confines his inquiry to US Marines, and their many sacrifices, because in 1982 (and this is surprising because it isn’t long after 1978) the war is long gone, an economic recovery either is or isn’t beginning, and people especially don’t want to remember a “wrong war” that was thankfully ended a decade prior. But the price paid by the people who served in it will never be refunded. Of the song, Joel said he “…wasn’t trying to make a comment on the war, but writing about the soldier as a person.” That person is all we have left of that war. We don’t have the peace movement that strove to end war and save lives, as Jane Fonda knew it. And we don’t have the global struggle against the violent spread of communism, as perhaps Michael Cimino saw it. We are only left with our veterans, whose post-war struggles are still a daily reality for many of them, and a sometimes reminder for the rest of us when our lives intersect with theirs.
And the commercially-viable art cinema of the 80’s, if subdued, persisted. Many great directors, even commercial ones, emerged in that decade. Steven Soderbergh made Sex, Lies, and Videotape. The Coen Brothers burst onto the scene with Blood Simple. Spike Lee brought a truly unique style to movies that would be often imitated in the next decade, but never matched.
And the decade that followed that one was like nothing that had ever come before. Independent (or “indie”) film became all the rage in the 1990’s. It was overhyped, of that you can be certain, but it also brought countless new talents to film, who made movies that, without that overhype, probably never would have seen the light of day. Richard Linklater showed us an alternate universe focused on the hidden gems of mundane life, and anything but that last adjective would describe his lasting career. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights proved that even a movie about the porn business can be told on an epic scale, and that Marky Mark was secretly a great actor named Mark Wahlberg, before Mark Wahlberg proved through many subsequent choice that he didn’t need to leave Marky’s particular good vibrations entirely behind. Overall, the 90’s really was an exciting time to be a fan of the movies. It was the decade that introduced America to former Golden Girls extra Quentin Tarantino, the video store clerk who absorbed a huge swath of influences like a sponge, and transduced them into razor-sharpened moviegoing experiences.
Tarantino is going to beat Scorsese in the vote. Both for Best Picture, and Best Director. I’m not certain he’ll actually win the awards. I think Best Picture is a longshot (1917 is Oscar-bait if ever I’ve seen it, and Parasite has really impressed people), but a Best Director prize would be very deserved for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a movie that celebrates that uniquely fossilized Hollywood that Scorsese and his ilk displaced, at a time when it was already a sinking ship. Tarantino is known for being a very particular, even artistic director, who nevertheless delivers, when he releases a movie, a commercially uncontainable product that succeeds at the box office in spite of not fitting an action or kids’ franchise-mold. People just really like his movies. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has grossed $373m worldwide since its release in late July of 2019. In a world where The Irishman had gotten every bit of the big release Scorsese preferred, Tarantino’s movie still would have destroyed him. I don’t see how it can be argued otherwise.
The MCU will never dominate the Oscars, of that you can be sure. Black Panther‘s nomination for Best Picture last year was purely to make the Oscar telecast more about the kind of movies people actually want to go see, in the hopes more people would tune in, and it didn’t work. It won’t be repeated. These awards, in which each category is voted on by peers in that field (actors vote for the acting awards, writers for writing, and all for Best Picture), are reserved for creative achievements that go above and beyond adequate, and above all, the Marvel movies strive for adequate. Adequate to conquer the megaplex is still a version of adequate. Scorsese is right when he says there are no surprises in these movies, at least if you’re over 12 years-old and you’ve seen a few of them. “Many of them are well made by teams of talented individuals. All the same, they lack something essential to cinema: the unifying vision of an individual artist,” he wrote in the Times. This is what the New Hollywood that birthed his career was all about, and like that wannabe James Dean in 1970, they’re just not buying what he’s selling like they used to. I still am, but I’m 37, and even in my demographic I admit I’m not mainstream. Some of the other directors he name-dropped in the Times are very hip among people my age, like Ari Aster or Wes Anderson, but Scorsese makes movies for my father.
Martin Scorsese is 77 years old. No one would blame him for retiring, like many of his peers are doing. The sweeping changes I described earlier; the bulldozing of the megaplex, this is not something Scorsese is likely to live to see. I don’t know how likely I am to see it. But I would be guarantee it’s inevitable. But 77, 87, or 97, my hope is that Martin Scorsese keeps making movies. His movies, to me, are the best ones, and my life would have just a little less meaning if I had never been able to experience them, and it will be a loss when I know I have seen his last one. If Scorsese had retired after Raging Bull, we would have no Goodfellas, no Last Temptation, no Casino, no The Aviator, and these are just the ones that spring into my head when I consider this dystopian alternate universe. I am happy not to live in it.
The awards don’t matter. He already has one at home. Like everyone who puts their whole heart into their life’s work, he knows how good he is what he does. He doesn’t need me to tell him.
If I had a million dollars, I’d trust the guy with it.