Martin Scorsese is weighing in on the current state of cinema in relation to streaming services, and his complicated feelings about motion pictures at the moment.

While the director of such classic films as “Raging Bull” and “Taxi Driver” would prefer his films be released theatrically, his last film — “The Irishman” — would never have made it to the screen if not for the financial support of Netflix; meanwhile, the unforeseen pandemic has resulted in an entire year’s worth of movies meant for theatres that wound up being watched on television screens.

Scorsese shared his thoughts in a new essay he wrote for Harper’s Bazaar, in which he explores the legacy of famed Italian director Federico Fellini.

Scorsese takes a harsh look at the state of the media industry in its current incarnation, expressing his view that “the art of cinema” is being “systematically devalued, sidelined, demeaned, and reduced to its lowest common denominator, ‘content’.”

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The word “content”, Scorsese explains, has seeped into the public consciousness, but he feels it’s important to delineate different types of content.

“As recently as 15 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’,” Scorsese writes.

“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,” he continues. “‘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. 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. On the one hand, this has been good for filmmakers, myself included. 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. 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?”

According to Scorsese, curating of content “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.”

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In fact, Scorsese points out, “We can’t depend on the movie business, such as it is, to take care of cinema. In the movie business, which is now the mass visual entertainment business, the emphasis is always on the word ‘business,’ and value is always determined by the amount of money to be made from any given property.”

He uses Fellini as an example of the necessity “to refine our notions of what cinema is and what it isn’t. Federico Fellini is a good place to start. You can say a lot of things about Fellini’s movies, but here’s one thing that is incontestable: they are cinema. Fellini’s work goes a long way toward defining the art form.”