Filmmakers who look up to Martin Scorsese for his work just got another lesson in how to gracefully respond to a negative review. In a stirring essay for The Times Literary Supplement, the publisher of a mixed “Silence” review that ran back in January, the renowned director defends cinema as commensurate with the great works of literature, music, and art.
Cinephiles may ask themselves if such a fervent response is even needed, especially at a time when one is more likely to read an impassioned defense of television’s artistic merit. TLS, after all, is one of the oldest and most prestigious literary magazines in the world. It stands to reason that their film critic would hold literature in higher esteem than cinema. But Scorsese is not taking it anymore. He writes:
“Over the years, I’ve grown used to seeing the cinema dismissed as an art form for a whole range of reasons: it’s tainted by commercial considerations; it can’t possibly be an art because there are too many people involved in its creation; it’s inferior to other art forms because it ‘leaves nothing to the imagination’ and simply casts a temporary spell over the viewer (the same is never said of theatre or dance or opera, each of which require the viewer to experience the work within a given span of time).”
Scorsese notes that the “Silence” reviewer, Adam Mars-Jones, does not necessarily espouse all of these beliefs in his review, which he calls “thoughtful and, for the most part, carefully considered.” However, “[Mars-Jones] does seem to have an opinion about the cinema that is more or less in sympathy with such harsh assessments,” he said.
“‘In a book,’ writes Mr Mars-Jones, ‘reader and writer collaborate to produce images, while a film director hands them down.’ I disagree. The greatest filmmakers, like the greatest novelists and poets, are trying to create a sense of communion with the viewer. They’re not trying to seduce them or overtake them, but, I think, to engage with them on as intimate a level as possible. The viewer also “collaborates” with the filmmaker, or the painter. No two viewings of Raphael’s ‘Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints’ will be the same: every new viewing will be different. The same is true of readings of ‘The Divine Comedy’ or ‘Middlemarch,’ or viewings of ‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp’ or ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.'”
“Silence” is based on a novel by Japanese author Shusaku Endo, and Scorsese disputes Mars-Jones’ idea that any literary adaptation will be a “distortion,” or an “exaggeration overall.” “In general, I would say that most of us respond to what we’ve read and in the process try to create something that has its own life apart from the source novel,” he said.
Thanks to Mars-Jones for taking one for the team.
Read Martin Scorsese’s essay, “Standing up for cinema,” at The Times Literary Supplement.