Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Martin Scorsese pens lengthy essay denouncing the treatment of films as "content"

Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese
Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for AFI

Martin Scorsese’s opinions have become hot topics over the last few years, because for some reason it matters whether or not he likes superhero movies, and now Scorsese has dropped another of his now-famous hot takes about modern Hollywood—and as you might expect, given his pessimistic take on superhero movies, he has some issues. This all comes from a piece that Scorsese wrote for Harpers about Federico Fellini, which primarily revolves around how his films helped teach a young Scorsese about the magic of cinema. Unfortunately, as time has gone on, the wonder that Fellini captured in I Vitelloni and 8 1/2 has gradually faded, with “the art of cinema” being “systematically devalued, sidelined, demeaned, and reduced to its lowest common denominator.”

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This lowest common denominator, as Scorsese sees it, is “content.” Over a big chunk of the Fellini essay, Scorsese discusses how “content” was once only used when “people were discussing the cinema on a serious level” (as opposed to “form,” he says), but now it has become a “business term” that encompasses everything. Now, everything from “a David Lean movie, a cat video, a Super Bowl commercial, a superhero sequel, a series episode” are all considered the same thing because they’re all “content,” with the blame for this falling on the shoulders of the streaming platforms that are taking over the “moviegoing experience” just like how “Amazon overtook physical stores.”

He acknowledges that he has benefitted from the rise of streaming platforms (his next movie will be on Apple TV+), but their algorithms are reducing everything to “subject matter or genre” and rendering any kind of curation meaningless—outside of things that are “actually curated,” he says, like MUBI, the Criterion Channel, and TCM. It’s not that he’s just upset about things being bad now, though, it’s more that he’s mourning the disappearance of the wild, risky days when now-legendary filmmakers were still figuring out how to redefine the art form in real time. It’s fair for him to miss those days, but also it’s 2021 and both the ways that movies are made and the ways that movies are released are completely different from what they were in the ‘60s. He’s not just an old man yelling at a cloud (get it?), he just misses the days when the thing he has dedicated his life to was still new and revolutionary.

The point he’s making, though, is that people who love movies the way he does need to be firm in their belief that films like the ones Fellini made “amount to much, much more than mere property to be exploited and then locked away” because “they are among the greatest treasures of our culture.” (That all being said, there are some really good cat videos out there that he should check out.)