In a new essay, Martin Scorsese calls out the modern film industry for devaluing cinema
“In the movie business, which is now the mass visual entertainment business, the emphasis is always on the word ‘business,’ the director wrote
While the lengthy essay, titled “Il Maestro,” was written to praise the work of the late Italian director Federico Fellini, Scorsese devoted ample space to his thoughts regarding why he thinks major corporations and streaming services are devaluing cinema as an art form.
The problem he sees
The director took particular aim at one word that is often used while discussing the modern entertainment industry: Content.
“The art of cinema is being systematically devalued, sidelined, demeaned, and reduced to its lowest common denominator, ‘content,’” Scorsese wrote (via Harper’s Magazine).
He added: “As recently as fifteen 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.’ 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.”
The director went on to explain that “content” has become a catch-all term for any moving image thusly placing prestige cinema on the same playing field as cat videos, superhero movies, and Super Bowl commercials.
The director said streaming services and their algorithms — built to guide viewers to new material — are responsible for the devalorization.
“If further viewing is ‘suggested’ by algorithms based on what you’ve already seen, and the suggestions are based only on subject matter or genre, then what does that do to the art of cinema?” he wrote. “Algorithms, by definition, are based on calculations that treat the viewer as a consumer and nothing else”
The director pointed out, however, that the advent of streaming services also comes with certain benefits. He personally benefitted from a streaming services when his violent 2019 gangster epic “The Irishman” was both financed and distributed by Netflix, FilmUp reports.
His proposed solution
Scorsese writes that individuals and streaming services would be wise to explore curated collections in their efforts to share and discover movies.
“Curating isn’t undemocratic or ‘elitist,’” the director wrote. “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.)”
His concluding argument is that the movie business in its current state is disinterested in taking care of cinema and people who love the art form have a responsibility to share their passion with others.
“In the movie business, which is now the mass visual entertainment business, the emphasis is always on the word ‘business,’ and value is always determined by the amount of money to be made from any given property,” he wrote. Those of us who know the cinema and its history have to share our love and our knowledge with as many people as possible.”
In one of the essay’s final sentences the director raises a call to action stating that movie owners need to be held accountable for the way they handle their products.
“We have to make it crystal clear to the current legal owners of these films that they...are among the greatest treasures of our culture, and they must be treated accordingly.”
Scorsese’s past remarks
The director made headlines in October 2019 for stating in an Empire magazine interview that Marvel superhero movies had more in common with amusement park rides than traditional cinema.
Less than a month later, Scorsese doubled down on his remark as he wrote an essay published in The New York Times that explained his opinion in more detail.
“There’s worldwide audiovisual entertainment, and there’s cinema,” he wrote. “They still overlap from time to time, but that’s becoming increasingly rare. ... And I fear that the financial dominance of one is being used to marginalize and even belittle the existence of the other. For anyone who dreams of making movies or who is just starting out, the situation at this moment is brutal and inhospitable to art. And the act of simply writing those words fills me with terrible sadness.”
What’s next for the director
According to Deadline, Scorsese is currently working on a new movie titled “Killers of the Flower Moon,” a true crime story based on David Grann’s 2017 bestselling book of the same name. The film is being produced by Apple Studios will star Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio alongside Jesse Plemons.