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Martin Scorsese explains why he didn't end up directing Joker

Contributed by
Nov 4, 2019

Joker owes a lot to the cinematic language of Martin Scorsese. The box-office smash, directed and co-written by Todd Phillips, was heavily influenced by Scorsese classics like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, and that influence runs so deep that Phillips even got Scorsese mainstay Robert De Niro to play a talk-show host in a nod to his King of Comedy character's trajectory. Scorsese's influence is clear, but once upon a time, he could have had a much bigger role. In a new interview, the legendary director explained why he took a step back.

Scorsese is making the rounds right now to promote his new Netflix original crime epic The Irishman, and while chatting with the BBC's Sam Asi, he was asked about his ties to Joker and the way the film evokes his films in particular.

Scorsese explained that he'd "thought about" the film a great deal "over the past four years," and ultimately decided he would not be directly involved.

“I decided that I didn’t have the time for it,” Scorsese said. “Todd told me, ‘Marty, this is yours,’ and [I said], ‘I don’t know if I want to.’ For personal reasons, I didn’t want to get involved, but I know the script very well.”

Scorsese's name has been tied to Joker ever since it was first reported that Phillips was working on the film. At the time, Scorsese's name was being thrown around as a potential producer for the project. Though he remained hands-off in terms of the finished product, Scorsese praised Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix for doing "remarkable work" on the film, which has since become the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time.

Asi also asked Scorsese about Joker in the context of his recent comments that Marvel movies are "not cinema." In a previous interview, Scorsese compared Marvel films to "theme parks," drawing ire from various Marvel fans and filmmakers alike. In an attempt to elaborate, Scorsese explained that he was unsure about "the next step" of Joker, which would have been Arthur Fleck "developing into a comic book character."

"He develops into an abstraction. That doesn’t mean it’s bad art," Scorsese explained. "It could be, but it’s not for me, you follow?”

Scorsese also offered another explanation of his Marvel comments, heaping praise on the creators of the films while categorizing these movies as "another art form."

“They’re not easy to make,” Scorsese said. “There are a lot of very talented people doing good work, and a lot of young people really, really enjoy them. But I do think it’s more of ... an extension of the amusement park.”

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