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Cinema vs Television: Scorsese, Lynch and Beyond


Martin Scorsese has been in the news lately. What seems to be set as a shoe-in this coming award season is his latest, The Irishman. Starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci the epic crime drama has a stellar ensemble and who's who of gangster Hollywood. A strong genre film based on a book of the same name, which follows a mob hitman and his connection with labour union leader Jimmy Hoffer, the sprawling gangster picture clocks in at 3 1/2 hours.

While it probably had something to do with publicity in the weeks leading up to the release of The Irishman on Netflix, Scorsese was quite vocal about his feelings on the Marvel cinematic universe. Essentially dismissing the franchise's spectacle by likening it to a theme park ride, his remarks pressed buttons with fans of the box office blockbusters. While spectacular, imaginative and star-studded the CGI monoliths are very different from what a director like Martin Scorsese can bring to the party. One of Hollywood's's most respected filmmakers of all time, legendary Marvel producer Kevin Feige was almost resigned in his response to Scorsese's comments.

At 3.5 hours, The Irishman is one of his longest films yet and while compelling, it is a slog to endure the full duration in one sitting. The temptation to watch it in several parts is much stronger based on the fact that it has been released on Netflix, allowing more wiggle room when it comes to play and pause as opposed to conventional theatre. A meme doing the rounds giving audiences a handy four-part breakdown, and Netflix's insistence that the film only get a very limited theatrical release, has meant that many viewers would have watched it almost like a miniseries. Ironically, being a cinematic purist, Scorsese has now been tasked with maintaining that The Irishman is in fact a film and not a miniseries.

This irony and new streaming services have created a fascinating grey area. Roma, a film released on Netflix which did get a theatrical run was regarded as one of the year's best films receiving a number of awards during last year's award season. Rather niche, the black-and-white arthouse drama spent a year in the life of a maid in Mexico City. Far from mainstream, it was a surprising and even promising move from Netflix, something of a pioneer in the film industry. While raising many eyebrows, not just Robert De Niro's, The Irishman can almost be seen as a bit of a challenge and a disruptor in its wake.

Blurring the lines between what constitutes a cinematic feature film release as opposed to a straight-to-video TV movie, it's becoming increasingly difficult to make the distinction. Television is now in its golden age, in some cases matching cinema in every respect, almost forcing some re-evaluation. The boundaries have certainly shifted over the years and one great example of this is the return to Twin Peaks. The highly anticipated season three of Twin Peaks by writer-director David Lynch further muddied the waters. Releasing on Showtime, it has been argued that the TV series is in fact the best film of the last decade. With each episode winding up in a bar with a musical interlude, you could see how it would be easy to glue every episode together without the interludes to form one very long film.

David Lynch's Twin Peaks series was revolutionary at the time it first emerged, inspiring a number of other shows with similar elements and appetites. The filmmaker is or has been quite reluctant to delve too far into television, having only directed several of the original Twin Peaks episodes. His latest effort makes a great case study and example when it comes to trying to differentiate between television and film, having served as director from start to finish. Nowadays the crossovers are quite normal with many film actors becoming figureheads for long-running TV series. While there used to be a stigma attached to TV productions, the calibre and popularity of such shows is making it much easier and advantageous to associate.

Streaming services are giving viewers access to the latest and greatest from the comfort of their own home. While influential filmmakers like Martin Scorsese are being won over, one wonders what implications opting to release on the small screen could have in the long run. It's much more comfortable to watch from the comfort of your own home, yet with the wide spectrum of quality when it comes to home theatres, it may not be an optimal first point screening platform.

Moreover, taking these kind of screen gems away from theatres could further jeopardise the film industry from a financial point-of-view. While there is plenty of money to be made via streaming services at present, who are bending over backwards in order to create fast entertainment catalogues, one does wonder how long and sustainable this can be. While it's promising that many people are turning to streaming services instead of simply pirating content, it's difficult to comprehend how such small "family" subscription fees will be able to substitute for the cost of a movie ticket and be able to advance the industry. These radical changes are certainly turning things upside down, although as more streaming providers come to the party things are going to further complicate themselves.