And just when we were beginning to think there was a paucity of examples of the arrogance of the self-imagined elite (Hollywood division), along comes Francis Ford Coppola to live down to our expectations, as Fox news reports:
Director Francis Ford Coppola [made] some angry rebukes this weekend after he went a step further than Martin Scorsese in his criticism of Marvel superhero movies, calling them ‘despicable.’
The 80-year-old ‘Godfather’ director made the incendiary comments while in Lyon, France, to receive the Prix Lumiere for contributions to cinema, AFP reported.
Earlier this month, Scorsese had likened popular superhero flicks to ‘theme parks’ rather than true cinema.
‘I don’t see them,’ Scorsese said during an interview with Empire magazine. ‘I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema. 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.’
He added: ‘It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.’
I’ve written before about teaching my students to appreciate the difference between good art and mere entertainment. Good art elevates, it teaches and delights. It is an example of the best human beings can create in a given genre. It gives us insight into the human condition, but more, it encourages us to be the best we can be, to appreciate all that is good and noble and valiant in humanity. It also encourages us, when we fall short, to be better.
Entertainment, on the other hand, at its best, encompasses many of these elements, but its primary purpose is to capture our attention, to allow us an escape from our daily reality. Its characters may be no less vibrant than those of good art, but they tend to be somewhat more simplistic if not necessarily one-dimensional.
What people like Coppola and Scorsese find enormously meaningful, many Americans find preachy and tedious. Their self-imagined intellectual and moral betters do not agree:
‘When Martin Scorsese says that the Marvel pictures are not cinema, he’s right, because we expect to learn something from cinema, we expect to gain something, some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration,’ Coppola said while speaking to a journalist in Lyon. ‘I don’t know that anyone gets anything out of seeing the same move over and over again. Martin was kind when he said it’s not cinema. He didn’t say it’s despicable, which I just say it is.’
One Marvel director replied, but with the kind of logic and civility Coppola so obviously lacks:
James Gunn, who directed the Guardians of the Galaxy, took to Instagram on Sunday to argue that Scorsese and Coppola essentially were repeating the same line of criticism that older generations gave them when they were younger.
He noted that gangster movies, which have been closely associated with Coppola and Scorsese, were once called ‘despicable’ by ‘our grandfathers,’ who also regarded the films of John Ford, Sam Peckinpah, and Sergio Leone as ‘exactly the same.’
Let us, gentle readers, intellectually, morally and artistically inferior though we be, return to two movies reviews. The first, arguably the greatest superhero movie of all time: The Avengers:
In the last year , I’ve seen several films that while not truly good art—they’re not going to be remembered as examples of the best movies ever made a century from now—go several steps beyond mere entertainment. Movies like Marvel’s Captain America, and Battle: Los Angeles are well made, entertaining movies in the grand tradition of American movie making. They take that step beyond entertainment because they celebrate what has made America great: self-sacrifice, courage, teamwork, decency and do not, for a moment take morally superior, smug leftist swipes at the gun and God clingers forking over substantial money in their local cineplexes. They are—gasp—patriotic, and tell interesting, exciting stories without sex or language that turns the atmosphere blue.
These movies unashamedly celebrate good old-fashioned heroism, and there are no horribly flawed, bad-boy anti-heroes who roguishly leer their way through the script. The good guys in these films are of the Navy SEAL variety rather than politicians who take credit for the deeds of others. I was brought up on Marvel comics, comics with real plots, interesting characters and college-level vocabulary. Marvel fans will not be disappointed.
There is violence, to be sure—often on a grand scale–but it is not the slow-motion blood-flinging violence of Peckinpah or Tarentino, yet it is not cartoonish. Violence is employed against the bad guys, who are very, very bad indeed, by good guys who are very, very good indeed, and the innocent are unashamedly protected, yet no one plays the victim.
The issue of heroism is of great importance. The most popular movies, such as the Star Wars series or the Marvel movies have larger than life heroes, like Odysseus or Beowulf. The original Star Wars trilogy owes much of its success to being modeled on The Odyssey. The same characteristics and story telling that captivated the ancient Greeks captivates us today because times change but people don’t. Consider this from my review of Avengers: End Game (2019):
The Marvel movies have been so successful, and Captain America, the leader of the Avengers, because he embodies the American spirit. In these tiring times, Heinlein’s crazy times, normal Americans long for the American, practical, spiritual values that won WII and the Cold War, and that have held the world together since. But these are not exclusively American values.
The best stories, myths if you will, encompass the archetypes that animate all epic literature: the journey, adventure, the trials and triumphs of the hero, and normal men and women, through strength of character and dogged determination overcoming impossible odds, good defeating evil, honor, duty, loyalty, kindness, compassion, and love. Above all else, Avengers: End Game is the triumph of love, as it must always triumph if humanity is to survive.
As strong as they are, as skilled as they are, every Avenger is mortal; as in Adam, all die. Yet they, time and again, risk it all. This time, some didn’t beat the odds, but their sacrifice can inspire us, and it reminds us that, as Charles DeGaulle said, the graveyards are full of indispensable men. Fortunately, Americans have always risen to the occasion when necessary.
Ultimately, the Marvel universe works because the philosophy underlying it is distinctly Christian/American, evolved from the Western tradition. Even if those involved in production don’t fully understand or embrace Christian theology, and think America/Americans nothing special, they have been smart enough to embrace the ancient, self-sacrificing values of true heroism, or at least have an appreciation of the profits reaped by giving the deplorables what they want.
This, I suspect, is much of what disturbs the self-imagined Hollywood elite. It is what compels people like Robert De Niro, much of whose work I’ve appreciated, to threaten violence against President Trump. It is what causes them to sneer at the Americans whose patronage of their movies has made their fame and fortune possible. These people worship nothing but fame, riches and celebrity. Their lives are quite unlike the lives of normal Americans, people who, as every NCO I’ve ever known would say, work for a living. These are people who have nothing but disdain for patriotism, America and Americans, Christianity and American values. These are people who not only want the bad guys to win, but take a cynical pleasure in their triumph, seeing it as edgy, and particularly, a thumb in the eye of Normal Americans.
Perhaps one reason so many don’t share the enlightened cinematic sensibilities of the self-imagined Hollywood elite is so many of the characters in their “cinema” are terrible human beings, dysfunctional, even evil, and not at all admirable. The qualities and beliefs essential for success in everyday life are absent in them, or so warped as to draw attention in the manner of a particularly gory car wreck.
I do not suggest all movies are the same, any more than I would suggest all visual arts—painting and sculpture—are the same. Clearly, some things in any genre are of more intrinsic and artistic value than others. We admire the works of Michaelangelo today because he created works at the pinnacle of human achievement. They may be equaled, but never surpassed. The same is true of Mozart, DaVinci, Bach, and innumerable other artistic geniuses.
Marvel movies, at their best, have set the standard for their genre, and it is a very high standard. There tends not to be a great deal of character development in these movies, but there does not need to be. They exist to entertain, and above all, to inspire us, to celebrate the values of selflessness, self-sacrifice, courage, responsibility and loyalty that have built the society that allows people like Sorcese and Coppola the liberty and ease to scorn those that have made their success possible. They are our Odyssey, our Beowulf, our mythos, and we need them as much as the men and women of the past did. And in entertaining so well, they often approach, perhaps achieve, the status of good art.
I buy worthy movies on DVD because any good movie is worth watching more than once, not only to catch everything, all the nuance one can’t catch on the first viewing, but to be reminded of the eternal values that elevate us all, if we’re not too busy thinking ourselves too good for such things.