Martin Scorsese has gone on at length about the rise of superhero movies. He’s not a fan of them, not taken individually, but what they represent to Hollywood and how their prevalence squeezes out more personal visions that don’t fit into a blockbuster framework. And yet, Scorsese has largely remained silent on Joker, a film he was courted to produce but ultimately decided to back away from. Todd Phillips’ movie, which became the first R-rated feature to gross over $1 billion worldwide, wears its Scorsese influences on its sleeve, particularly Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy.
Speaking to The New York Times, Scorsese was asked if he had seen Joker. He replied that he was in no rush to check it out:
“I saw clips of it,” Scorsese said of “Joker.” “I know it. So it’s like, why do I need to? I get it. It’s fine.”
Someone should probably get Todd Phillips to a burn ward after that. Imagine making a movie that’s all about how much you love Martin Scorsese and Martin Scorsese is like, “That’s nice.”
Of course, it’s telling that the filmmakers Scorsese chooses to promote are in the indie world. Last year he served as an executive producer on The Souvenir and Uncut Gems. Scorsese knows the filmmakers he wants to work with, and they’re out here making bold works that don’t need to hide behind his back catalogue or a superhero brand. You could argue that the box office success of Joker proves that Phillips didn’t really need Scorsese’s stamp of approval, but I’d counter that Scorsese isn’t particularly interested in movies that dominate the box office.
Strangely enough, the way the Oscar season is shaping up, Scorsese and Phillips could end up going head-to-head in the Best Director race, which would certainly be fascinating to see.