The legendary director isn’t known to hold back punches when it comes to discussing the current state of cinema. As part of a recent essay, he attacked streaming, algorithms, commercially successful movie franchises and more.
The 78-year old Scorsese lamented on the recent trends in cinema in an article he wrote for the March issue of Harper’s Magazine on the filmmaking genius of Federico Fellini. Most of his criticism was aimed at what he perceived as the conflict between artistic intentions and corporate desire of satisfying the most number of consumers. Then, he talked about the downsides of streaming platforms. He wrote:
“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. ‘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 movie going experience, just as Amazon overtook physical stores.”
He’s certainly not alone with his sentiments. Similar views were expressed by a number of his illustrious colleagues, such as M. Night Shyamalan, Christopher Nolan and Denis Villeneuve, the latter being quite upset, that his latest movie, the adaptation of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” will premiere on HBO Max at the same time as in theatres. In his recent interview for Variety, the director called it his best movie and was disappointed the way that Warner Bros. treated his work. The filming of “Dune” took place in Hungary (at Origo Studios) and in Jordan with the budget of $165 million. Villeneuve only adapted the first half of the book and expressed his worries that the planned sequel might have to be cancelled due to the lower box office revenues because of HBO Max.
Scorsese then went on to criticize the influence algorithms have on the audience:
“On the one hand, this has been good for filmmakers, myself included. On the other hand, it has created a situation in which everything is presented to the viewer on a level playing field, which sounds democratic but isn’t. 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?”
This isn’t the first time the Italian-American director expressed his distaste of modern movies; in 2019 he said that Marvel movies are “not cinema”. While many fellow directors took offense to his words, some supported his views. Francis Ford Coppola went as far as to call MCU films “despicable”.
Whatever might be the case, there’s one thing that could still change; the weight of movie streaming. Who knows what will happen, once we get past COVID-19? The lovers of cinema might flood back to theatres in order to “properly” enjoy the medium.
However, blaming the algorithms seems a bit short-sighted from a director such as Scorsese, whose works usually revolve around crime thrillers featuring Italian-Americans mobsters. Whoever is interested in these kinds of flicks probably consider his works “must-watch”. There’s probably plenty of people who gave “Goodfellas” a chance because of Coppola’s “Godfather” series or Brian De Palma’s “Scarface”. The error might not be in the system, but it might be an inherent quality of human behavior.
It’s a crying shame that the main point of Scorsese’s article, namely the legacy of Federico Fellini went under the radar because of the shadow this controversy has cast upon it.
Sources: Variety, Entertainment Weekly, Harpers’s Magazine, The Guardian