The word “cinema” brings to mind many different thoughts and images. Some people might think of a Wong Kar-wai film. Others might think of the latest from Wes Anderson. And yes, there are people that will even put “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” under that header, as well. While we know Martin Scorsese has conflicting thoughts about that last feature in regards to its place in “cinema,” Paul Schrader thinks the term is a much bigger umbrella than you probably understand.
Speaking to GQ, the “First Reformed” filmmaker talked about the definition of “cinema.” Even though his friend and colleague, Martin Scorsese, doesn’t seem to consider Marvel films (and superhero films, in general) as real “cinema,” Schrader is more lenient with the designation. The more interesting discussion, for the filmmaker, is about why comic book films have become the go-to film genre for the general public in recent years.
“No, they are cinema,” explained Schrader. “So is that cat video on YouTube, it’s cinema. It is kind of surprising that what we used to regard as adolescent entertainment, comic books for teenagers, has become the dominant genre economically. Each generation is informed, and informed by literature, or informed by theater, or informed by live television, or informed by film school. Now we have a generation that’s been informed by video games and manga.”
He added, “It’s not that the filmmakers have changed, it’s that the audiences have changed. And when the audiences don’t want serious movies, it’s very, very hard to make one. When they do, when they ask you, ‘What should I think about women’s lib, gay rights, racial situations, economic inequality?’ and the audience is interested in hearing about these issues, well then you can make those movies. And we have. Particularly in the fifties, and sixties, and seventies, we’re making them one or two a week about social issues. And they were financially successful because audiences wanted them. Then something changed in the culture, the center dropped out. Those movies are still being made, but they’re not in the center of the conversation anymore.”
Schrader is a man that is not one to hold back his opinion about issues related to film. So, it’s no surprise that he has an opinion on the Marvel/“cinema” debate. But given he’s a filmmaker that has leaned more into the auteur side of things, as of late with films like “First Reformed” and his new project, “The Card Counter,” it’s interesting to see how he doesn’t think “cinema” is some term that is reserved for movies with some subjectively “greater” artistic merit. So, if you’re out there making cat videos on YouTube, congrats! You’re a filmmaker.