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JoeStemme

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A new Harper's piece by Martin Scorsese about Federico Fellini has stirred up a hornet's nest of controversy over a passage where he writes in part:

"...the art of cinema is being systematically devalued, sidelined, demeaned, and reduced to its lowest common denominator, “content.”...“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."

I come down squarely with Scorsese here. Of course, the social media world exploded with “old man shouting at the clouds!” memes. And, the ole 'He should talk since Irishman was Netflix!!” All too easy and predictable, but few really tried to truly analyze the filmmaker's point. And, no, it wasn't “Streaming is bad, BAD!”
The crux of Scorsese's argument is that when all TV and Movies are reduced to just a small rectangle on an endless queue of choices they become indistinguishable product - or “content” as he describes it. Of course, it's always been the film BUSINESS. Nobody disputes that, but, up until the last few years (and Especially in 2020), there was an eco-system of festivals, theatrical release, critics reviews, awards and physical media that filtered out the wheat from the disposable chaff. That spotlighted what films deserved special attention. The system wasn't perfect, but, it had a meaningful function. And, all of that occurred Before the movie in question hit streaming.

Now, far too often, a new film is just dumped on a service where it may attract eyeballs as a new release for a few days, a week, a month if it's really lucky -- and then off to oblivion buried deeper and deeper into the various lists. As I write this, there isn't a single feature film in the Top 10 on Netflix - but, hey there's the hot new Season 3 episodes of Good Girls at #3!! And, that's IF you happen to subscribe to the ONE service that is carrying a particular film of note. Add to that the unfortunate analytics the streaming services use to suggest films to you. It's insidious. It makes viewers actually NARROW their choices rather than expand it. Liked this? Well, here's more of "this" and only things like "this".

So, make fun of fuddy duddy Scorsese because he doesn't think Marvel is “cinema” in the same way that Kurosawa or Godard or Hitchcock are -- but, he nails it.

The full Scorsese piece is here (and, it's very good): https://harpers.org/archive/2021/03/il-maestro-federico-fellini-martin-scorsese/
 

TravisR

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A new Harper's piece by Martin Scorsese about Federico Fellini has stirred up a hornet's nest of controversy over a passage where he writes in part:

"...the art of cinema is being systematically devalued, sidelined, demeaned, and reduced to its lowest common denominator, “content.”...“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."

I come down squarely with Scorsese here.
I am at a complete loss as to how anyone couldn't be. About the only way that someone could disagree with him is if they love Marvel movies so much that they now just have to disagree with anything Scorsese says.
 

Adam Lenhardt

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This is first and foremost a critique of distribution. Scorsese is a renowned filmmaker but he is first and foremost a passionate fan of cinema. It's easy to understand why he would be frustrated to see the momentous works of the filmmakers he admires most forced to co-exist on equal footing with old seasons of "The Real Housewives of" whatever. Most streaming services see film libraries as assets to be exploited. He sees film libraries as a responsibility to the movie-going public.

I have very mixed feelings on our current moment. There is more content than ever before, but that also means that there is more crap than ever before. There are probably just as many gems being made today as there were in Fellini's time. The difference is that there isn't the same community and network of exhibitors to help you find them.
 

Joe Wong

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I think Scorcese is one of the greatest directors of all time. And I think I understand what he's saying about everything being reduced to "content".

But is he also saying a superhero movie is not "cinema"? That Oscar-winners like The Dark Knight and Black Panther don't qualify? (Not that Oscars are a guarantee of quality, of course, but they're seen as the "pinnacle", if you will.)

Any opinion of a work of art, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. I think Goodfellas is brilliant, but so is Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure! To each his/her own, right? ;)

Scorcese's comments may actually say more about the consumer than the content provider. Eg., Netflix can provide almost endless choices, and even make things more accessible via suggestions, etc. But it's still up to the viewer to choose, right?
 

MatthewA

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How many people making those "get off my lawn" memes have even seen or heard of the movies he mentions in this article?

Curating 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. (The best streaming platforms, such as the Criterion Channel and MUBI and traditional outlets such as TCM, are based on curating—they’re actually curated.) Algorithms, by definition, are based on calculations that treat the viewer as a consumer and nothing else.

If anything, it's Scorsese's critics who prove to be the closed-minded ones by dismissing the possibilities of a cinematic world beyond what mainstream Hollywood studios have to offer.
 

MatthewA

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But is he also saying a superhero movie is not "cinema"? That Oscar-winners like The Dark Knight and Black Panther don't qualify? (Not that Oscars are a guarantee of quality, of course, but they're seen as the "pinnacle", if you will.)

To be honest, I'd rather watch Wonder Woman than Gangs of New York, but not out of any sense of reverse genre snobbery but because I simply felt the latter was substandard for Scorsese. The bigger problem is that Hollywood doesn't seem to want to greenlight any other kind of film other than remakes of the same old stuff you've already seen, and the streaming services, however inadvertently, seem to contribute to the problem because their algorithms, as JoeStemme already pointed out, discourage you from trying anything new and different.

But somehow this debate also reminded me of a MAD Magazine article from the 1990s about the difference between cinema and movies. One of the examples was: "if it's about society's total lack of understanding, it's cinema. If it's about Sharon Stone's total lack of underpants, it's a movie." But that particular debate was over attitudes toward the audience within the same medium. This is about how new media has changed the way we look at these movies and how we pass them down from generation to generation, and why it matters. If it didn't, then there wouldn't even be a Home Theater Forum!
 

Jake Lipson

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But is he also saying a superhero movie is not "cinema"? That Oscar-winners like The Dark Knight and Black Panther don't qualify? (Not that Oscars are a guarantee of quality, of course, but they're seen as the "pinnacle", if you will.)

He said that a couple years ago when The Irishman came out. This article seems to be focused on a separate issue.

IIn regards to those earlier comments, I still think what I thought before. Scorsese is entitled to express his opinion, but I am surprised that he chose in the specific wording of his comments decided to dunk on the work of his peers. He has worked with many people who have also worked on superhero movies.

Close Grace Moretz - appeared in Hugo for Scorsese; also Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass
Asa Butterfield - Hugo for Scorsese; was in the running for MCU Spider-Man before Tom Holland got it
Andrew Garfield - Silence for Scorsese; was Spider-Man
Liam Nesson - Silence for Scorsese; Batman Begins
Cate Blanchett - The Aviator for Scorsese; Thor Ragnarok for Marvel
John C. Riley - The Aviator and Gangs of New York for Scorsese; Guardians of the Galaxy for Marvel
Ana Paquin - The Irishman for Scorsese; Rogue in four X-Men movies
Jon Favreau - acted in The Wolf of Wall Street for Scorsese; directed Iron Man which began the MCU and plays Happy
Robert De Niro - a bunch of things for Scorsese; appeared in Joker for DC

and that's just off the top of my head.

Plus, one of his producing partners produced Joker.

So, even though he is allowed to express his opinion, I'm not sure what he gained from going out of his way to dunk on the work of colleagues. When asked his opinion about superhero movies, he could have just said, "Those films are not for me" and avoided degrading the genre. But that's not what he chose to do. I'm not offended by his comments, but I do think there was a way to speak about them without being quite so inflammatory, and I'm not sure why he did that.

This new round of comments seems to be getting at a different issue, and I'll comment more on them later since it is late here and I'm going to bed.
 
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nara

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To be honest, I'd rather watch Wonder Woman than Gangs of New York, but not out of any sense of reverse genre snobbery but because I simply felt the latter was substandard for Scorsese.
That's reassuring! I thought I was on my own there. I'm a massive Scorsese fan, but that film was overrated dross. (imho of course) :(
 

Robert Crawford

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So, even though he is allowed to express his opinion, I'm not sure what he gained from going out of his way to dunk on the work of colleagues. When asked his opinion about superhero movies, he could have just said, "Those films are not for me" and avoided degrading the genre. But that's not what he chose to do. I'm not offended by his comments, but I do think there was a way to speak about them without being quite so inflammatory, and I'm not sure why he did that.

This new round of comments seems to be getting at a different issue, and I'll comment more on them later since it is late here and I'm going to bed.
When you get a certain age, you might understand why he said it, instead of avoiding the controversy. He just doesn't give a rip any longer! It's one of the few advantages, old age gives a person, a limited sense of liberation when it comes to speaking your mind.:laugh:
 

MatthewA

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Scorsese worked for Disney in the 1990s to make the movie Kundun, a Touchstone release which they later had to apologize for after they upset the Chinese Government. I wonder whether there are still any hard feelings over that.
 

MatthewA

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The studio went in this direction subsequently. Let's face it, Disney is one of the primary reasons for the state of affairs described in this article. Even when other studios did the same, none of them did so quite as vociferously except possibly Warner Bros. since they own DC. That's why Disney wanted Marvel: to be on an even keel with them in terms of owning a comic book publisher.

Of course, the same Warner Bros. that made Superman III also greenlit After Hours, one of Scorsese's better films and something out of the box for him: a quirky comedy.
 

Nick*Z

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A new Harper's piece by Martin Scorsese about Federico Fellini has stirred up a hornet's nest of controversy over a passage where he writes in part:

"...the art of cinema is being systematically devalued, sidelined, demeaned, and reduced to its lowest common denominator, “content.”...“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."

I come down squarely with Scorsese here. Of course, the social media world exploded with “old man shouting at the clouds!” memes. And, the ole 'He should talk since Irishman was Netflix!!” All too easy and predictable, but few really tried to truly analyze the filmmaker's point. And, no, it wasn't “Streaming is bad, BAD!”
The crux of Scorsese's argument is that when all TV and Movies are reduced to just a small rectangle on an endless queue of choices they become indistinguishable product - or “content” as he describes it. Of course, it's always been the film BUSINESS. Nobody disputes that, but, up until the last few years (and Especially in 2020), there was an eco-system of festivals, theatrical release, critics reviews, awards and physical media that filtered out the wheat from the disposable chaff. That spotlighted what films deserved special attention. The system wasn't perfect, but, it had a meaningful function. And, all of that occurred Before the movie in question hit streaming.

Now, far too often, a new film is just dumped on a service where it may attract eyeballs as a new release for a few days, a week, a month if it's really lucky -- and then off to oblivion buried deeper and deeper into the various lists. As I write this, there isn't a single feature film in the Top 10 on Netflix - but, hey there's the hot new Season 3 episodes of Good Girls at #3!! And, that's IF you happen to subscribe to the ONE service that is carrying a particular film of note. Add to that the unfortunate analytics the streaming services use to suggest films to you. It's insidious. It makes viewers actually NARROW their choices rather than expand it. Liked this? Well, here's more of "this" and only things like "this".

So, make fun of fuddy duddy Scorsese because he doesn't think Marvel is “cinema” in the same way that Kurosawa or Godard or Hitchcock are -- but, he nails it.

The full Scorsese piece is here (and, it's very good): https://harpers.org/archive/2021/03/il-maestro-federico-fellini-martin-scorsese/
Amen to that. Movies have been 'devalued' for quite some time. The argument has been that filmmakers today are telling more 'personal' stories and, due to the broader audience base, thanks to cable, streaming, home video, etc. et al. these can still appeal to a finite group, rather than the broader base as 'mass entertainment' and still find their home and turn a profit. Problem: the movies we increasingly see are not 'personal', but preachy.

On the whole, they are weighted down with political correctness, which has virtually emasculated their entertainment value, and even worse, are bloodless and void of the artistic magnitude that once accompanied a theatrical debut. Years ago, Spielberg gave an interview in which he claimed, "Film makers have forgotten how to tell stories." Spielberg went on to criticize the 'then' popular trend of beginning a story with out an actual beginning, but instead, just starting somewhere in the middle and ending 2 hours later, still in the middle.

There is a huge difference between experimental cinema and just ineptly produced tripe masquerading as art house. The sad reality is that the age of the Spielberg's, Pollack's, Coppola's and Scorsese's is on the wane and dying out. And what's been left in its wake isn't exactly a cause for celebration.

I keep going to the movies hoping to have that grand experience of yore, where I was completely absorbed into that 'other world' on the screen as I am when I watch a Hitchcock, Eastwood, Cukor, Lean, Wyler, Wellman, Wilder, Fleming, Pollack, Spielberg, DeMille, Hawks, Huston, Sidney, Donen, Coppola, Scorsese at work. There were so many 'great' directors then, and far too few now.

And the movies are poorer for it. They lack the staging, style and finesse of the earlier masters. And loading up a movie with enough CGI to stifle, coupled with the Ginsu-chop-shop editing techniques that have become fashionable, first, to fill run time, but also to deflect from the fact there isn't much 'acting' going on, and what is, is usually sub-par to what used to be classified as 'talent', and you have what we have today - mindless fluff that indoctrinates, anesthetizes, but never actually satisfies or gratifies the senses.

The problem here is two fold: first, writers don't write for drama anymore. They write for action. So, car chase, fight scene, tidal waves of carnage between which the most threadbare of connective tissue dialogue is inserted, merely to get one from points 'A' to 'B' with the least possible effort. When was the last time you left the theater able to quote a 'good line' of dialogue?

Add to this the utter lack of 'star' presence, with the age demographic chronically getting younger and less appealing, because it's so heavily focused on celebrating stick figures with no souls, and...well...going to the movies is no longer a great way to spend two hours in the dark.

If Hollywood wants to resurrect itself in the eyes of many, it had better begin by cultivating some talent that also has that intangible presence on the screen, something L.B. Mayer called 'a personality'. Mayer always believed that with the right personality at the helm, he could craft precisely the sort of film vehicle audiences would want to see. Mayer was the last of his ilk - a true 'star maker', hand-crafting personalities that, despite their absence now for well beyond 50 years, refuse to leave the public consciousness and, in fact, grow more distinct and vibrant with each passing year. So, the Gables, Garlands, Tracys, Hepburns, Rooneys, and so on.

In the wake of that decaying period, the sixties gave us the Oliver Reeds, Richard Burtons, Peter O'Tooles, Michael Caines, Sean Connerys, Christopher Plummers, Marlon Brandos, Paul Newmans, Anthony Hopkins - edgy, great, dynamic and different.

The last great period for actually creating that sort of iconography, though it happened then almost by accident, was the late 1970's through the 1980's - the emerging age of the Hoffmans, DeNiros, Freemans, Schwarzneggers, Noltes, Streeps, Closes, Douglas, etc. et al, with the cap coming shortly after Julia Roberts made her debut on our movie screens. But then, something went horribly awry. Hollywood seemed to lose interest in the Meg Ryan/Sandra Bullock strain of actresses, and just went for the watered down facsimile.

The edict from on high was sexy girls and hot guys - eye candy at the expense of personality and presence. One may attempt to argue this as nothing new, as Hollywood has always been enamored with a cute face and fine figure. But at least in the glory days, those assets had to be accompanied by real, raw, talent and yes, personality plus. That's precisely why sexpots like Jean Harlow, Rita Hayworth, and, Marilyn Monroe live on.

But in the early 1990's copies began to emerge, leaving the originals behind. We are now drowning in a sea of simulacrum - a cheap copy of a copy of a copy of a copy, in which no one seems to even be interested in knowing from whence the original inspiration for it once sprang. That's a shame. Actually, I rate it as more of an artistic travesty.

So, yes, - Scorsese hit it right on the head, and out of the park. The fact he is receiving such backlash for it now has less to do with the fact some think him hopelessly outdated and off the mark, then with the general embarrassment felt by many who realize he's right and that, in making his statements, they have been exposed for their shortcomings and responsibilities for taking us all down the wrong path. Bravo, Martin! But he's preaching to the choir. Regrettably, the church has already been let out!
 
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Angelo Colombus

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Last week i was going thru the Criterion Fellini box set and watching the films i have not seen or not lately and agree with Martin Scorsese that the box set is so welcomed and i would put it as one of the best box sets Criterion has ever released. You can see in his later films Ginger & Fred and Intervista that Fellini is saying that cinema has become devalued and he blames some of that on television. You can hear him and Marcello Mastroianni say that in the many interviews on the discs.
 
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MatthewA

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You can see in his later films Ginger & Fred and Intervista that Fellini is saying that cinema has become devalued and he blames some of that on television. You can hear him and Marcello Mastroianni say that in the many interviews on the discs.

I heard that same argument by the uninformed "expert" standing in line for a movie in Annie Hall. But those were 1970s TVs which were much smaller than modern ones, and there was no cable and thus no Turner Classic Movies, and home video barely existed so that venue was not yet open to them. In theory, streaming should have opened up more opportunities for classic, international, and independent cinema than it did. But then the focus of the major platforms had less to do with diversity of content and more to do with the bidding rights to reruns of The Office. FilmStruck came and went. Criterion has a streaming channel, but that is no replacement for actually being able to own a movie on a disc.
 

Joe Wong

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To be honest, I'd rather watch Wonder Woman than Gangs of New York, but not out of any sense of reverse genre snobbery but because I simply felt the latter was substandard for Scorsese. The bigger problem is that Hollywood doesn't seem to want to greenlight any other kind of film other than remakes of the same old stuff you've already seen, and the streaming services, however inadvertently, seem to contribute to the problem because their algorithms, as JoeStemme already pointed out, discourage you from trying anything new and different.
This speaks to my comment that it may be more about the audience, since their attendance or viewership drives what the content providers produce. As has often been said, moviemaking is a business, and a risky, pricy bomb could mean failure or bankruptcy for a studio (Heaven's Gate is an infamous example).

Hence the studios' move to franchises, sequels, remakes and brands like Pixar. With respect to Marvel, if Iron Man had failed back in 2008 (and back then, there were probably some who viewed it as risky, given the choice of Robert Downey Jr as the star, etc.), we probably wouldn't have "content" like Wandavision right now.
 

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