Key Words: Martin Scorsese laments the rise of ‘content’ and streaming’s lack of curation

United States

Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese took a shot at streaming services Tuesday for devaluing cinema to mere “content,” and said algorithms are ruining discovery.

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

— Martin Scorsese

In a cover essay for Harper’s, Scorsese discussed his love of cinema as an art form, and described how the films of Federico Fellini helped to inspire him, but he also laid out criticism over the current cinematic business model, which has put classic movies on subscription services that lack proper curation and keep viewers from exploring films outside their own bubble.

“We can’t depend on the movie business, such as it is, to take care of cinema,” he wrote.

While he noted that streaming services have benefited some film makers, including himself, “it has created a situation in which everything is presented to the viewer on a level playing field, which sounds democratic but isn’t. 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?

“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.”

Scorsese also chastised studios that don’t even bother distributing older movies — a point on which Walt Disney Co. DIS, -0.70% has been criticized for, after vaulting many classic Fox films.

“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,” he wrote.

Scorsese, who is also a foremost film scholar, has lamented the death of film as art on numerous occasions in recent years, and drew flak in 2019 for saying Marvel’s superhero blockbusters don’t count as true cinema. He has also praised the potential of streaming services to revolutionize cinema. His last film, “The Irishman,” streamed exclusively on Netflix NFLX, +0.14%, and his next film, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” with Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, will stream on Apple’s AAPL, -1.61% TV+.