The director of GoodFellas has lamented the decline of cinema as an art form, pointing the finger at algorithm-obsessed streaming services.
In an essay for Harper’s Magazine entitled Il Maestro, dedicated to the esteemed Italian film director Federico Fellini, Martin Scorsese has made clear his disappointment in the direction that modern cinema has taken with the advent of streaming services that seek to cater to the lowest common denominator.
Scorsese’s essay starts, naturally, as an imagined film sequence where an unidentified young man (who we may choose to picture as being diminutive, with distinctively thick eyebrows) wanders around New York City, drinking in the wealth of artistic movies on offer at the cinema –including classics of the French New Wave by Godard and Truffaut, along with Fellini’s own masterpiece La Dolce Vita – before we fast-forward to the present day, and a very different cinematic landscape meets our eyes.
Mr Scorsese’s beef is with the lack of respect the streaming industry seems to have for cinema as an art form; this is encapsulated by the reductive industry term ‘content’ which can be used to describe “a David Lean movie, a cat video, a Super Bowl commercial, a superhero sequel, a series episode”. According to Scorsese, this attitude is mostly manifested through algorithms based only on the subject matter and genre of what you’ve seen, or as he puts its, “based on calculations that treat the viewer as a consumer and nothing else.”
Instead, the director of such classics as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull suggests a system of expert curation to share great films with the public, as exemplified by MUBI or the Criterion Collection. Pre-empting his critics, Scorsese writes that his proposal “isn’t undemocratic or ‘elitist’, a term that is now used so often that it’s become meaningless. It’s an act of generosity—you’re sharing what you love and what has inspired you.”
He goes on to vaunt the oeuvre of Federico Fellini, implying that his indelible impression on cinema may never have been realised if he lived in an era of such close-mindedness from major studios.
The polemic provoked strong reactions on social media, and while some users berated the septuagenarian for being out of touch, the majority leapt to defend him and his argument.
Team Scorsese. (I can't imagine how you wouldn't be.)— edgarwright (@edgarwright) February 17, 2021
Edgar Wright, the obsessive cinephile and director of Shaun of the Dead, proudly announced that he was on Scorsese’s side as the debate raged on…
Martin Scorsese busted down the front door and deleted my Disney+ account and said I could only watch gangster man movies 🙁 literally shaking right now— Down Here For Your Soul (@bombsfall) February 18, 2021
And, as ever, such a serious debate wouldn’t be complete without some tongue-in-cheek mockery.
So where do your sympathies lie? Has your experience of streaming broadened your horizons or narrowed your tastes? Has the art of cinema suffered from being subject to the strictures of algorithms, or has it brought you closer to the ‘content’ you crave? Let us know what you think in the poll below.