The auteur believes that each project he takes on should add something of value to the viewer, himself, and the art of cinema. But not everyone is a fan of the filmmaker.
In an essay recently published by the Critic, writer Sean Egan berates Scorsese by calling him an "uneven talent" whose "self-indulgence" has "debased his talent." Egan goes on to criticize The Wolf of Wall Street for being "achingly slow," Raging Bull for having "across-the-board bad filmmaking," and Goodfellas as a "grand exercise in futility."
The essay made its rounds today, especially on film Twitter, where Guillermo del Toro came online to defend Scorsese against the "offensive, cruel and ill-intentioned" essay.
In the tweet, del Toro wrote, "...[T]he amount of misconceptions, sloppy inaccuracies and hostile adjectives not backed by an actual rationale is offensive, cruel and ill-intentioned. This article baited them traffic, but at what cost?"
Then del Toro went on to write that "film language discussions, history lessons, and research may be needed" for anyone who quickly dismisses films that have been embedded into cinematic history. While the author of the essay does not enjoy the specific works of Scorsese, their claim that the films hold no importance or value completely dismisses why those films and their filmmakers matter in film history.
“When I read pieces like this one. Aimed at one of the most benign forces and one of the wisest, I do feel the tremors of an impending culture collapse — and I do wonder: ‘To what end?’ …and find myself at a loss,” del Toro wrote.
We have a responsibility to our community, and we cannot simply dismiss shorts, series, films, or filmmakers simply because they do not appeal to our feverish consumption of media. To stop looking, listening, and understanding the language of filmmaking and the rich history behind could mean the eventual demise of film culture.
Why We Should Listen to Scorsese
Although the director has had some conversational takes such as claiming that Marvel films were “not cinema” and the notion that films belong in theaters and not on streaming platforms, Scorsese remains a voice that requires our attention and our sincerest judgment. When he is backed by other filmmakers who share a similar fear, we must stop and take a moment to fully recognize the state of the industry we are in.
While we might not fully enjoy some or all of Scorsese's filmography, we cannot deny that the director has made a name for himself in the industry by pushing the boundaries of filmmaking. Whether we know it or not, Scorsese influences all of our work because of how ingrained he is in the film culture.
The director understands the culture of film better than anyone else. I mean, he has been in the industry since the 1960s and has experienced almost every facet of it. The goal of his career in filmmaking is to put the filmmaker and their art first, so the most we can do is listen to what the legend has to say.
For instance, in an essay about the Italian director Federico Fellini for Harper’s Magazine last year, the American director spoke about the impact of streaming services that he noticed while working with Netflix and Apple in recent years.
His take on how people are discussing cinema is something that remains relevant today when streaming platforms seem to be imploding. Scorsese believes that streaming services and the culture of streaming are “devaluing” cinema by reducing films to “content.”
'The Aviator'Credit: Miramax Films
Scorsese Doesn't Want Cinema to Be "Content"
“Content” has been used to describe films lately, which has stuck a thorn in many people’s side, yet we can’t help but refer to some films and television shows' content. I am entirely guilty of it. It’s difficult when it has become the word to describe any moving picture on any screen.
Scorsese writes that “the art of cinema is being systematically devalued, sidelined, demeaned, and reduced to its lowest common denominator” by the streaming system which sees films as content to be watched and discarded by audiences. “As recently as 15 years ago, the term ‘content’ was heard only when people were discussing cinema on a serious level, and it was contrasted with and measured against ‘form,’” he wrote.
The term has since evolved, becoming a catch-all term for films, television, commercials, cat videos, and TikTok. As Scorsese puts it: “all moving images” have now become products rather than art on various levels of seriousness.
Some of you may pause and ask yourself, “But didn’t Scorsese make an Oscar-nominated movie with Netflix?”
Yes, and Scorsese, although seemingly hypocritical at times, defended streaming as a platform that benefits filmmakers of all levels of talent and success. But he does not deny that these same streaming platforms have "created a situation in which everything is presented to the viewer on a level playing field, which sounds democratic but isn’t.”
'The Irishman'Credit: Netflix
When I quickly look at my HBO Max’s homepage, I see Federico Fellini’s surrealist masterpiece 8 ½ placed next to the newly released Superpets. I don’t know what the correlation between the two is or why HBO Max’s algorithm has presented them to me this way, but it is bizarre to see the two presented as similar enough.
Cinema, or people’s at-home-viewings of cinema, is something that has to be wanted and discovered. Especially when companies like Warner Bros. Discovery, which quietly removed 68 titles from HBO Max without warning, or Disney, which refuses to release streaming originals in physical form, have a chokehold on what viewers are allowed to watch. We have to take a step back and ask what we are doing to preserve the art of cinema.
Martin Scorsese BTS on 'Raging Bull'Credit: United Artists Releasing
As Scorsese writes in his essay, we cannot depend on the modern movie business to take care of cinema, those who know cinema, the history of cinema, and the filmmakers who want to create cinema. When we do not take care of the film culture, we are doomed to lose it. Other filmmakers would agree to this as well.
There is no fault in enjoying a highly commercialized family-friendly movie, but do try to support filmmakers who want to make art that you believe is valuable to our community. Donate, purchase films from collections like Criterion or the filmmakers themselves, go to the theater, or actively go past the homepage and search for a film you’ve never seen before.
As a filmmaking community, we must ensure the survival of our culture and its history by pushing the needle forward rather than giving up on the journey entirely. And we should honor the perspectives of people who love film, even if we don't always enjoy their work.
Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Source: Harper's Magazine