Martin Scorsese thinks film is dying: See all his ridiculous quotes
Here we go again. Remember when, a lifetime ago, Martin Scorsese made half of Film Twitter mad because he said the Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn’t actually “cinema”? Boy, did that go over well. Feels like nerds were arguing about it forever, with Scorsese probably ruing the day he made a statement about a series of movies he had never watched.
Eventually, the world moved on. There was a global pandemic, then a presidential election, then Bernie Sanders wore really cute mittens. The whole “Marty hates superhero movies” thing became just an innocent joke, a faux pas long behind us. Except Martin Scorsese might have felt it was time to shake Film Twitter again, this time with a full-blown essay lamenting the death of cinema.
Okay, that’s a little melodramatic. The essay is actually about Federico Fellini, one of Martin Scorsese’s film heroes. But Marty found plenty of room in his piece to throw shade at streaming services, movie studios, even audiences. It’s an undoubtedly well-meaning effort: Scorsese cares about film and wants us to care too. Unfortunately, his statements can come off as pretentious and disconnected from reality.
Content & form
One of Martin Scorsese’s pet peeves when discussing film seems to be the misuse (in his mind) of the word “content”. To quote Scorsese in the Fellini essay: “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’.”
For the acclaimed filmmaker, it’s not just about semantics. “Content” is now what we call anything we can watch, regardless of its score in the artsy-meter. And he says that the new definition of “content” is “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.”
If you feel like Martin Scorsese is sounding like someone who’s not crazy about “them damn tablets and other doohickeys”, you’re not alone. It’s hard to complain about streaming services and online bookstores without coming across as someone who’s stuck in the past – even if you’re a legendary & beloved film director.
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Part of Martin Scorsese’s beef with streaming services is how their film offerings aren’t curated. In his newest essay, Marty goes: “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?”
In his passionate advocacy for more guidance when it comes to film options, Martin Scorsese seems to be missing the fact that people aren’t restricted to whatever a streaming service suggests for them. Nobody is arguing curated lists of content (just heard Marty grind his teeth) are a bad thing. But Scorsese comes across as thinking they’re the only way to go about offering a film catalogue.
“Curating isn’t undemocratic or ‘elitist,’ a term that is now used so often that it’s become meaningless,” says a now-sounding-a-tad-defensive Martin Scorsese. “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.)”
Hey, he name-dropped MUBI, so major props for that. Still, Marty goes on to keep railing against Netflix’s suggestions, by saying “Algorithms, by definition, are based on calculations that treat the viewer as a consumer and nothing else.” He does know those same algorithms pimp out ‘The Irishman’ to anybody who enjoys other Martin Scorsese films, right?
It’s Martin Scorsese: we all love him & we all love his movies. That’s why we cringe when we read something like “Everything from ‘Sunrise’ to ‘La Strada’ to ‘2001’ is now pretty much wrung dry and ready for the ‘Art Film’ swim lane on a streaming platform.” Isn’t that ‘Art Film” swim lane exactly the kind of curated offering you wanted? You’re killing us here, Marty!
Parts of the essay read like an honest-to-god tantrum from the venerable filmmaker. Try reading “I suppose we also have to refine our notions of what cinema is and what it isn’t,” as if you were a child sulking over mom getting the wrong flavor of ice cream for dessert tonight.
But again, it’s Martin Scorsese, film idol to cinephiles all over the world. When he wants to, he can be an inspirational figure. Such as when he decrees “Those of us who know the cinema and its history have to share our love and our knowledge with as many people as possible.” Now that’s what we’re talking about! That’s the Marty we cheer for.
Now, could Martin Scorsese please share that love & knowledge of film in a less pretentious way? Could he maybe get actual accounts on a few streaming services so he can appreciate how they truly work? It’d do wonders for Film Twitter’s sanity.