Martin Scorsese Mourns the Devaluing of Cinema as Content


Good ol’ Marty is back in the news once again as he continues to fight the good fight and call out some of the problems with the current state of the movie industry. Back in 2019, he sparked a major debate when he criticized Marvel movies and questioned their value as art, laying out most of his thoughts in a New York Times op-ed. Now this week he has written a piece for Harper’s Magazine entitled “Il Maestro” that is intended primarily as a love letter to Federico Fellini but that also comments on the fact that cinema is being “systematically devalued, sidelined, demeaned, and reduced to its lowest common denominator, ‘content.'” Here is a longer excerpt from the essay:

“As recently as fifteen 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.’ Then, gradually, it was used more and more by the people who took over media companies, most of whom knew nothing about the history of the art form, or even cared enough to think that they should. ‘Content’ became a business term for all moving images: a David Lean movie, a cat video, a Super Bowl commercial, a superhero sequel, a series episode. It was 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. On the one hand, this has been good for filmmakers, myself included. On the other hand, it has created a situation in which 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?”

He goes on to reminisce about a time when many filmmakers (Fellini, in particular) were still experimenting and pushing the boundaries of what cinema could be before bringing it back to the importance of curatorship and preservation. I find it hard to believe that anyone could disagree with the things he is expressing in the article, although it has very quickly turned into some kind of cheap online argument over whether Scorsese is still relevant and whether his own films are deep and meaningful. It is a strange response but I guess that’s what he gets for daring to question the billion dollar franchises that now rule the cinematic landscape. To me, one of the most important things he is illuminating here is the fact that if something isn’t streaming, it no longer exists. On top of that, these streaming services only exist to cater to your pre-existing preferences rather than challenge you and expose you to something new. Do you agree with Scorsese’s opinion on the current state of cinema?

  • bobsponge42

    Content Junk

  • Nic

    This is the perfect occasion for a Fellini premium!!

  • Beat_C

    that would be amazing.

  • Nic

    I kind of suspect that Frank would really love Fellini’s style and humour. According to Letterboxd, none of them have even seen La Dolce Vita or 8 1/2, I think it would be very interesting to have premium where they all go in blind

  • Johnny


  • Lior

    Movies were always “content”, they were just neve labeled this way. For years they were shown on Network TV to fil out time slots and to sell ads. The difference this time is not that movies are “content”, but that the digital age allows to switch very fast from one content to another, and that the variety today is much much larger and overwhelming than ever before.
    I agree that the solution to this is curation other than algorithms. But it can’t be a one-sided affair. The viewer (or “consumer”), need to want to make the effort as well.
    Because the irony of the streaming age is that while we have access to more content than ever before, and thus we can exercise our choice like never before, we have never been more lazy or passive as to what we watch. The vast majority basically watch what the marketing and algorithms shove down their throats.
    So Marty, I don’t know, this train might have left the station already…

  • Jameson

    It’s hilarious how so much *content* on streaming services requires zero promotion because all they have to do is be the first thing that pops up when you login to Netflix or Hulu for people to watch.

  • Lori Cerny

    I fully agree with you, Lior.

    Ratings on Amazon Prime for obviously garbage films are very high, simply because they are included for free.