In a new essay about Federico Fellini, filmmaker Martin Scorsese weighed in on the current status of cinema and how he feels the nature of the art form is being devalued in an age where companies care more about creating "content" than they do about the importance of cinema on culture. In the essay for Harper's Magazine, Scorsese fully admits that there are advantages with streaming services (he released his critically acclaimed The Irishman on Netflix), but notes that trusting an algorithm to determine what audiences should watch serves as a reminder that these services will merely offer viewers what they think they would like, as opposed to curated services that put thought into crafting suggestions, potentially with films that engage with them or are drastically different from what they typically select. Given that Scorsese shared that he personally didn't consider superhero movies to be cinema back in 2019 and earned him backlash, these recent remarks about not wanting all moving images to fall into the category of "content" will surely ruffle some feathers.
"As recently as 15 years ago, the term 'content' was heard only when people were discussing the cinema on a serious level, and it was contrasted with and measured against 'form,'" Scorsese shares in the essay. "Then, gradually, it was used more and more by the people who took over media companies, most of whom knew nothing about the history of the art form, or even cared enough to think that they should. 'Content' became a business term for all moving images: a David Lean movie, a cat video, a Super Bowl commercial, a superhero sequel, a series episode. It was linked, of course, not to the theatrical experience but to home viewing, on the streaming platforms that have come to overtake the moviegoing experience, just as Amazon overtook physical stores."
Scorsese notes that, with this change, the "art of cinema is being systematically devalued, sidelined, demeaned, and reduced to its lowest common denominator."
The filmmaker went on to share his praise for select platforms which, rather than serving up films based on a series of calculations, selects films for their importance in the history of the medium.
"Curating isn't undemocratic or 'elitist,' a term that is now used so often that it's become meaningless," the filmmaker expresses. "It's an act of generosity — you're sharing what you love and what has inspired you. (The best streaming platforms, such as the Criterion Channel and MUBI and traditional outlets such as TCM, are based on curating — they're actually curated.) Algorithms, by definition, are based on calculations that treat the viewer as a consumer and nothing else."
He added, "Those of us who know the cinema and its history have to share our love and our knowledge with as many people as possible. And we have to make it crystal clear to the current legal owners of these films that they amount to much, much more than mere property to be exploited and then locked away. They are among the greatest treasures of our culture, and they must be treated accordingly."
Scorsese is currently developing an adaptation of Killers of the Flower Moon, which will be an Apple TV+ original.
What do you think of the filmmaker's remarks? Let us know in the comments below!
Header photo courtesy of Mike Coppola/FilmMagic/Getty Images