Martin Scorsese riled up a lot of Marvel fans with his comments that the MCU is not cinema, but the Oscar-winning filmmaker is now turning his ire to a much larger trend in Hollywood: the labeling of films as “content.”
In a new essay for Harper’s Magazine reflecting on the career of Federico Fellini, Scorsese lamented how the new era of streaming has made that dreaded c-word far too common in discussion of movies, particularly within the film industry.
“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,'” he wrote. “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.”
To him, the term “content” is now a “business term for all moving images,” whether it is “The Irishman” or any of the millions of TV shows, features, short films, or documentaries that are listed alongside Scorsese’s latest film on Netflix. In his words, “content” could refer to “a David Lean movie, a cat video, a Super Bowl commercial, a superhero sequel, a series episode.”
While Scorsese acknowledges that the rise of streamers like Netflix and Apple TV+ have allowed him and other filmmakers new opportunities to make movies, he is concerned that by piling millions of programs and films into a streaming service and then just relying on a computer algorithm to present a select amount of that “content” to a viewer, films from some of the greatest directors ever could easily get lost in the shuffle, becoming devalued as a new generation becomes less exposed to those classics because of the overwhelming selection on offer. A few exceptions he points to are curated streaming services like MUBI and Criterion Channel, as they present films to users on a hand-picked menu rather than having a computer do the work.
“We can’t depend on the movie business, such as it is, to take care of cinema. In the movie business, which is now the mass visual entertainment business, the emphasis is always on the word ‘business,’ and value is always determined by the amount of money to be made from any given property,” he warned. “In that sense, 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. We have to make it crystal clear to the current legal owners of these films that they amount to much, much more than mere property to be exploited and then locked away. They are among the greatest treasures of our culture, and they must be treated accordingly.”
While Scorsese’s latest thoughts prompted some grumbling on social media from Marvel fans, many others praised the filmmaker for his lifelong devotion to preserving cinema and its value as an art form while some argued that streaming has helped make the films of directors like Fellini and Kurosawa more accessible than they have ever been.
Scorsese’s passion for preserving the art of film and the language around it is important. It goes beyond whether marvel or dc is considered cinema. It’s about restoration, survival, and knowledge of the medium.
— monica rambeau's natural hair routine (@shiaintshy) February 16, 2021
Can't believe Scorsese arguing against the biggest media conglomerates in the world hoarding film libraries is controversial, imagine the mind disagreeing with thishttps://t.co/4TPEb4xsR2 pic.twitter.com/MqnZiAeWZp
— John Frankensteiner (@JFrankensteiner) February 16, 2021
I dunno, it is exhausting to repeatedly have to defend Scorsese saying something innocuous and correct, maybe not worth it, but also we probably don't have much time left with the guy, gotta support him in this final stretch
— Mr. Chau (@Srirachachau) February 16, 2021
People like Scorsese aren't gatekeepers. They invite you in with their knowledge and taste, and you can watch more or less everything they recommend whenever you feel like it. You know who/what the real gatekeeper is? Your own lack of curiosity and laziness.
— Tomris Laffly (@TomiLaffly) February 16, 2021
I agree with Scorsese, but one amazing development of the streaming era is the sheer level of amazing access to classic film. This is true with Criterion, Kanopy and if we're honest, piracy. It's never been easier to watch Buñuel or Bresson or Kurosawa. That's worth celebrating.
— Brendan Hodges (@metaplexmovies) February 16, 2021
"The cinema has always been much more than content, and it always will be."
Thank you, Martin Scorsese.
— Film at Lincoln Center (@FilmLinc) February 16, 2021
Scorsese is set to begin shooting on his next film, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” for release later this year. Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro and Lily Gladstone will star in the film about the murder of dozens of Native Americans in Oklahoma after oil was found on their ancestral Osage lands in the 1920s. The investigation into the murders became one of the first federal cases taken by the FBI.