The Marty Problem

I had no idea so many people were watching“Shutter Island” pulled in an impressive $40.2 million over the weekend, easily topping the box-office charts and giving Martin Scorsese his biggest opening yet.

This is good, I guess. One wants to see one’s favourite filmmakers do well, even if their latest offerings isn’t exactly good.
Quite a few of my colleagues are struggling with the same issue — with “Shutter Island”, Scorsese has delivered what’s basically a gorgeously made, utterly inconsequential genre picture — a film with even less weight than “The Color of Money”, the movie we tend to bring up when discussing the director’s work for hire.

The better comparison, of course is “Cape Fear” — an overwrought piffle that started out as a tribute to the movies Scorsese loved as a youngster, and metastasized into a ludicrous, overdirected mess.

In his interesting Slate essay, Elbert Ventura argues that Scorsese has spent the last decade or so sliding from his pedestal, and the American critical community is largely too polite to call him on it. (I’d say the slide began earlier, when he started his run of Oscar-baiting prestige pictures in the 1990s, but then I’ve never had much patience for “The Age of Innocence”.)

Glenn Kenny mulls a similar case at The Auteurs, with examples and everything. And the link to that piece on his personal blog has generated a very readable comment thread.

Check ’em out. And if you’ve seen “Shutter Island”, what did you think? Intriguing exercise in genre reclamation, or empty affectation? Or were you just in it for the atmosphere?

8 thoughts on “The Marty Problem”

  1. “The Age of Innocence” is actually my favourite Scorsese picture. It was the last time I saw him on-point, and the ending works better than in Wharton’s novel.


    That is the last Scorsese picture I’d openly recommend to anyone. “Gangs of New York” was embarrassing, and “The Departed” was an unholy mess. (That ending with the rat? Ugh.) When I lived in Vancouver, a pack of about 10 of us wanted to go to a Sunday matinee. Eight campaigned for some ephemeral hit I’ve forgotten. A friend and I lobbied for “Bringing Out the Dead”. We had to apologize to everyone else afterward.

    I think the seeds were actually sewn with “After Hours”. Critics and hipsters heaped praise on it when I really never thought it was very good. It was disingenuous. So was “Life Lessons”, but that only looked meaningful in the context of the Woody Lite and horrible Coppola that surrounded it in “New York Stories”.

    I think he should stop using Leonardo DiCaprio, for starters.

  2. I vote for empty affectation, placed in even sharper relief by the experience of another genre film helmed by a slumming old hand — I can’t say much more besides the fact that the title in question rhymes with “Toast Biter.” Where Scorsese retreats into (dubious) technique, Master Director X employs technique in the service of (what I take to be) witty self-allegory. In a fine essay at his blog, Kevin Courrier prods Scorsese’s committment to the material; while my own take on the film is slightly different — I didn’t think much of DiCaprio, for instance — I think he nails the fundamental problems with the project. I will say this, however: at least the bad (discontinuous) cutting in Shutter Island is on purpose, as opposed to in The Departed, which is just a badly edited — and just plain bad — movie.

  3. Into what bizarro alternate universe have I entered that The Departed is generally accepted to be a bad movie, and everyone nods their heads in unquestioning agreement? I don’t necessarily think that it’s Scorsese’s best film, but it’s certainly a strong work. To call it “an unholy mess” or “a badly edited — and just plain bad — movie” is just utter farking lunacy.

  4. ^^ What he said.

    I liked SHUTTER ISLAND! Since when is a “gorgeously made” genre picture a bad thing? It was a much, much better movie than Gangs of New York or The Aviator, both of which were total messes. Not sure why this is the one the critics are choosing to jump on him for—maybe everyone feels guilty about giving Avatar such a free ride or something and need to take it out on another venerable director.

    PS: Everyone needs to chill on the rat thing. It’s a joke!

  5. Wow. Shutter Island provoked this response? Really? I thought it was every bit as good as Silence of the Lambs, not to mention thematically more complex and creatively directed. Seriously, was it just a bad day for you?

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