Martin Scorsese has spoken out about streaming algorithms and the problem with the word "content" in a powerful new essay about the magic of Italian director Federico Fellini's filmography.
"The art of cinema is being systematically devalued, sidelined, demeaned, and reduced to its lowest common denominator, 'content'," the critically acclaimed filmmaker wrote in Harper's Magazine, getting straight to the point. But what's his problem with the c-word?
According to Scorsese, "content" has become "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."
Of course, streaming isn't all bad – in the essay, Scorsese praises curated platforms like MUBI and the Criterion Channel, while acknowledging how he's benefitted from the rise of streaming. His last movie, The Irishman, was released on Netflix, while the upcoming Killers of the Flower Moon will be released on Apple TV Plus.
"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," he continued. "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? [...] Algorithms, by definition, are based on calculations that treat the viewer as a consumer and nothing else."
This is a subject close to Scorsese's heart. As well as being a prolific filmmaker, he's also dedicated to film preservation and restoration, being a founder of the non-profit organization the Film Foundation and later establishing the World Cinema Project and the African Film Heritage Project to preserve film history across the globe.
"We can’t depend on the movie business, such as it is, to take care of cinema," was his damning conclusion.
While we wait for Killers of the Flower Moon, Scorsese's next project, make sure you've caught up on all the best movies of 2020.