In a new essay on Federico Fellini, director Martin Scorsese comments on the current state of film and how he feels the nature of the art form is being devalued at a time when corporations are more concerned with the creation of content than the importance of film to culture. In an essay for Harper’s Magazine, Scorsese certainly acknowledges the benefits of streaming services (he published his acclaimed book The Irishman on Netflix), but notes that relying on an algorithm to determine what viewers should see serves as a reminder that these services simply offer viewers what they think they’ll like, as opposed to preservation services that focus on making suggestions, possibly with movies that interest them or are radically different from what they normally choose. Given that Mr. Scorsese stated in 2019 that he didn’t consider superhero films to be cinematic, and that he faced headwinds for doing so, these recent comments about not wanting all moving images to fall into the content category are sure to ruffle some feathers.

Until 15 years ago, the term content was only heard when cinema was seriously discussed, and was contrasted and weighed against form, Scorsese says in his essay. Then it was gradually used more and more by people who took control of the media companies, most of whom knew nothing about the history of this art form or even thought they should know. Content has become the commercial term for all moving images: a David Lean film, a chat video, a Super Bowl commercial, an episode of superheroes, a TV series. It wasn’t about the movie experience, of course, but about watching it at home, on streaming platforms, which have surpassed cinema, just as Amazon has surpassed physical stores.

Scorsese notes that with this change, cinema is systematically devalued, sidelined, belittled and reduced to the lowest common denominator.

The filmmaker also praised the selection platforms that choose films based on their importance in the history of the medium and not on a series of calculations.

Curatorialism is not an undemocratic or elitist term that is now used so often that it becomes meaningless, he said. It is an act of generosity – you share what you love and what has inspired you. (The best streaming platforms like Criterion Channel and MUBI, as well as traditional offerings like TCM, are based on preservation – they are, in fact, preserved.) Algorithms, by definition, are based on calculations that treat the viewer as a consumer and nothing more than that.

He went on to say: Those of us who know the film and its story should share our love and knowledge with as many people as possible. And we need to make it clear to the current legal owners of these films that they are more than just property that can be exploited and locked up. They are one of the greatest treasures of our culture and should be treated as such.

Scorsese is currently working on an adaptation of The Flower Moon Killers, which will be an original app for Apple TV+.

What do you think of the director’s comments? Let us know in the comments below!

Photo cover courtesy of Mike Coppola/FilmMagic/Getty Images.

frequently asked questions

Was Martin Scorsese a bad director?

Why did Scorsese leave the Joker?

Martin Scorsese said he didn’t want to play Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, but acknowledged the influence his films had on him. Asked for his opinion on the film, the director said it intrigued him that he had been influenced by King of Comedy and Taxi Driver.

Which of Martin Scorsese’s films is the dirtiest of his career?

1 Wolf Wall Stretch (2013) – $392,000,694 WIDE WORLD How is it that this is Scorsese’s most suspenseful film? The Wolf of Wall Street, stylish and funny, brilliantly played and directed, made DiCaprio and Scorsese a lot of money.

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