Martin Scorsese argues cinema is getting 'demeaned, reduced' by onslaught of OTT content
Martin Scorsese's criticism of streaming 'content' comes a couple of years after his controversial take on Marvel films
Veteran filmmaker Martin Scorsese has issued a scathing attack against the cinema business in a powerful new essay on Federico Fellini, published in the March 2021 edition of Harper's Magazine.
The essay, titled Il Maestro: Federico Fellini and the lost magic of cinema published in Harper's Magazine, sees the iconic Italian filmmaker argue why the magic of cinema is now lost amidst an onslaught of content that is being released by film studios and streaming companies.
The tone of the essay is set when the filmmaker commences his piece by stating that the art of cinema is being systematically "deluded, sidelined, demeaned, and reduced to its lowest common denominator, 'content'."
Scorsese elaborates that even 15 years back the term content was heard only when people were discussing cinema on a serious level. Gradually it was used more and more by the people who took over media companies, he writes, adding that most of those people knew nothing about the history of the art form, or even cared enough to think that it was necessary to know about it.
The maker of films such as The Irishman and Killers of the Flower Moon then states that 'content' became a business term for all sorts of movie images and was linked, not to theatrical experiences, but rather, home viewing, on streaming platforms that have come to overtake moviegoing experience, likening it to the way Amazon took over physical stores.
Scorsese adds that while the transition has been good for filmmakers, including himself, it has created a situation in which everything is presented to the viewer on a level playing field and viewing is "suggested" by algorithms based on what a person has already seen, and the suggestions are based only on the subject matter or genre.
Stating that curating is not an elitist term but rather an act of generosity where one shares what they love or is inspired by, with others, he says that algorithms, by definition, are based on calculations that treat viewers as consumers and nothing else.
The filmmaker refers to Godard, Bertolucci, Antonioni, Bergman, Imamura, Ray, Cassavetes, Kubrick, Varda, and Warhol as people who were reinventing cinema while more established filmmakers such as Welles, Bresson, Huston and Visconti were revitalised by the surge in creativity around them, as opposed to the way cinema and the importance it holds in our culture has changed with cinephiles not being able to depend on movie business to take care of cinema.
The filmmaker also presents a lengthy discourse of Federico Fellini, who was more than a filmmaker. "much bigger than his own art" and now that he has been gone for almost thirty years, the moment in time when his influence seemed to permeate all culture is long past.
According to Scorsese, nowadays, in the movie business, the emphasis is on the word 'business' and the value is always determined by the amount of money to be made from any given property. The director concluded by adding that for those who know cinema and its history, have to share their love and their knowledge with as many people as possible and they have to make it clear to current legal owners of films that the cinemas amount to something far greater than mere property — "to be exploited and then locked away".
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