In an essay-long praise of film legend Federico Fellini as part of the March issue of Harper’s Magazine, Martin Scorsese laments over the devaluing of cinema.
“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.”
Before getting into the evolution of Fellini and his relationship with the director, Scorsese posits a question to highlight a digital era problem: “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?”
The essay is reminiscent of the op-ed he published in the New York Times in November 2019, in which he explained why Marvel movies are more like theme parks than cinema. He pegged the current industry as “inhospitable to art,” even as someone who has just completed a film for Netflix.
His written applause of Fellini is overshadowed by his lens into the piece that the faltering movie industry is failing our culture.
“Here was an artist who had managed to express the anxiety of the nuclear age, the sense that nothing really mattered anymore because everything and everyone could be annihilated at any moment,” Scorsese writes of experiencing Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita.” “We felt this shock, but we also felt the exhilaration of Fellini’s love for the art of cinema—and, consequently, for life itself.”
In his criticism, Scorsese calls for the industry’s rehabilitation, even though he knows the movie business “is now the mass visual entertainment business.”
“Everything has changed—the cinema and the importance it holds in our culture. Of course, it’s hardly surprising that artists such as Godard, Bergman, Kubrick, and Fellini, who once reigned over our great art form like gods, would eventually recede into the shadows with the passing of time,” Scorsese writes. “But at this point, we can’t take anything for granted. We can’t depend on the movie business, such as it is, to take care of cinema… Those of us who know the cinema and its history have to share our love and our knowledge with as many people as possible. And 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.”