In a recent essay titled Il Maestro by Martin Scorsese, published in Harper’s Magazine, the infamous Director opens up with a scene that basically describes his personal moviegoing experience in the year 1959, then states: “Flash forward to the present day, as the art of cinema is being systematically devalued, sidelined, demeaned, and reduced to its lowest common denominator, ‘content.'” And then goes on to say that the term “content” now equates all films with things like a “cat video, Super Bowl commercial, a super hero sequel,” etc. Well, if he knew about such things, he could have added the Tide Pod Challenge, or even the Gorilla Glue incident that recently happened. According to Mr. Scorsese, all these things that go viral are being considered more exciting than going to the theater and “experiencing” a film.
Is Mr. Scorsese correct in his assessment? Well, he’s right that there’s a difference in how he experienced seeing new films, compared to how the youth today is experiencing them now. But here’s a reasonable question that should be asked of the Master Filmmaker: Is the old man just a little bit out of touch with today’s entertainment industry? The answer is an emphatic YES! Now, I don’t want to bash the man, but he’s from a different time, a different era where Television was still a fresh invention in many family homes; it wasn’t a perfect medium in the year 1959. If a household was lucky, they’d have maybe four channels maximum. So people growing up during that point in history, such as Martin Scorsese, would know the best entertainment around was at the theater, especially for a New Yorker like him. People today know that when they’re sitting on the bus heading to work, or in a waiting room before a Doctor’s appointment, watching a viral video on their Smartphone of a man getting hit in the face with a glass bottle of Snapple Ice Tea is literally not the same as sitting at home watching a movie on Netflix. Watching viral content is a completely different invigorating experience, because what they’re actually watching really has no aesthetic substance.
I don’t believe for a second Martin Scorsese is at home watching film critic YouTubers talking about his movies, or anyone else’s; he’s a busy man — on conference calls, consulting the screenwriter for his next picture. (Killers of the Flower Moon, which will be in theaters, and stream on Apple+. His second film on a streaming service.) So I don’t think he has a full grasp of how well the “Art of Cinema” is actually still being protected, and preserved. I don’t think the magic of cinema is lost as he puts it; it’s still there to be seen, just in a new form. He spoke about how an algorithm on a streaming service will make a list of suggestions for the viewer based on what they’ve already seen, and criticizes it by saying it turns the audience into a simple “consumer.” Well, that’s what we — the audience — are. I like the algorithm made for me on Netflix, because it suggests Independent gems I would not normally find on my own.
The rest of Il Maestro is about one of Martin Scorsese’s biggest influences: Frederico Fellini. Even though the only reason the article went viral on Twitter was the negative statement regarding the current state of the film industry, what should really be taken out of this is the brilliance of filmmaker Frederico Fellini, and his wonderful filmography. At the suggestion of Mr. Scorsese, I will be watching the film 8½ on HBOmax tonight. See, Marty, I didn’t need an algorithm for that, I needed you.