“Cinema is the one generator of mythological images we have; images that have the heft, the weight and authority that only cinema can generate.” Guillermo del Toro
I have not got enough superlatives. In short, it is a master work. My admiration for Martin Scorsese is soaring. But those who think they will see a recapitulation of Good Fellas or Casino might be disappointed. I admire Scorsese’s discipline, restraint and understated ethos of The Irishman. There was a reverence to it. Only the most self-assured artist could do that. Very little propulsive “wall of music” to move the movie along. Most of the “hits” were referred to (not shown) for informational and contextual purposes only. Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino never raised his voice. He played Bufalino as rational, calm; a cold and clear-headed decision-maker. Al Pacino nailed and had me utterly captivated by his Jimmy Hoffa. And DeNiro disappeared into his character, Frank Sheeran. And while the characters were not presented as individuals to admire, they were multi-dimensional figures which drew one into the movie more.
The Irishman was slow-paced. It took its time. This, in no way, is negative criticism. Like Ingmar Bergman”s Fannie And Alexander (one of my 50 favorite movies), it had the same tempo over 3 hours and I was sorry when it ended. It is not that the 3:29 went by quickly, but rather I was totally immersed in the story for the entire time. One standard I have for a movie to be good is that it has to light a fuse early on and sustain it right to the end no matter the pacing. The Irishman achieves that.
I cannot imagine to watch the 3:29 hour movie at home no matter how big the screen and how well-equipped a home screening room or den can be. I can’t imagine pausing it to go get something to eat; or having the cat jump in one’s lap; the phone ringing and all the home’s ambience distractions that keep one from being fully engaged truly in such a worthy movie. It deserves to be seen in a well-equipped cinema, like the Madison Art Cinemas, for example.
I have been doing this work for 49 years. Next August it will be 50 years. I played just about all of Scorsese’s movie starting with Boxcar Bertha, Mean Streets (I am a better man to now have “mook” as part of my vocabulary) and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. But I had tears in my eyes as I left the Landmark 57. Not because I was so touched by the artistry of the movie (though I was), but because I love movies so much and I love to exhibit them equally and, as an exhibitor, I must make a bargain with the devil to play this movie in the brick and mortar cinema; the only format that will do it justice while knowing it will go to streaming after we open it at the Madison Art Cinemas and while we are still playing it. Lately I am feeling as if an important and meaningful way of life is passing by as the preferred formats for movie exhibition change and viewing habits change. I feel a gentle lament. I also understand that, tragically, Scorsese tried, but could not get the movie funded by a regular movie distributor to movie houses (was it Paramount, for example?). I also empathize with him that he had to make this movie (I no longer use the word “film”) one way or another. I am proud to play this great movie. That is what I do. With only two screens, I try to play the best movies that are in release; and The Irishman is among them now.
Two years ago or so I was eager to see Mudbound at TIFF only to learn a couple of days later that Netflix bought it and that the movie would barely make it to theatres except to meet the minimum requirements to be eligible for Academy Award consideration. But I am glad I saw it on the big screen. There were others too. This year I was eager to see Bad Education among others at TIFF. I thought it was worthy of screen time at MAC and for my devoted clientele to see it; another title we need badly. Then HBO bought it. The people who saw Roma at home were largely bored by it; not so for those who saw it in theatres. So about those tears, I feel that a way of experiencing movies and life are passing. I see “canaries in the coal mine” for small independent-for-profit arthouses. To wit, the shuttering of the Lincoln Plaza, the Beekman and now The Paris (though I hear that Netflix will give it a reprieve of a couple of months). I lament the Disneyfication and consolidation and homogenization of the industry. The country seems to be dumbing down; uninterested in someone else’s story. Fewer distributors are purchasing foreign language movies. And they are harder to sell now. The preponderance of the audience seems to approach movies only for escape. Alternatively, I see movies/cinema as a way to engage life more deeply. I fear there will come a new Oscar category: Best Movie Made For A Cell Phone?
While it is important to maximize profits, that has not been a singular mission of the Madison Art Cinemas. I do not pursue success, but fulfillment. Many are the higher grosses I have relinquished to play the title that ought to be seen. I have always felt deeply privileged to be entrusted with movies where directors, artists, screenwriters, technicians and, yes, distributors have put their souls to work on their projects. Their sincere efforts are not to be taken lightly. In short, it is as if someone has entrusted me with their child and it humbles me with each title I am awarded. I used to think my role was passive and that all the creativity came from the film makers. I have come to realize that I get to curate and mediate transforming experiences for people, in the best possible setting. And I get the immediate gratification and approval for it. Frankly, for me the movie theatre is where the rubber meets the road for movie production; not the TV screen or video (Remember Marshall MacLuhan’s The Medium Is The Message?) The lesson hasn’t escaped me. It is important to me to feel that part of the mission of my theatre and my work is to make someone’s life a little better; a little richer. Like thousands of movies I have exhibited since 1970, The Irishman gives real meaning to my work. And about putting one’s soul to work? What a great soul Martin Scorsese is/has. He is a remarkable man and a gift to us all who luxuriate in cinema. I hope that I can help validate his values by making The Irishman available in a state-of-the-art movie theatre setting.