Academy Award winner Martin Scorsese recently published an essay entitled II Maestro: Federico Fellini and the lost magic of cinema for Harper’s Magazine. In it the 78-year old director discusses his love for cinema, and the history of one of his favorite auteur filmmakers and friends: Federico Fellini.
He opens by describing a scene of anticipation of going to the cinemas. Scorsese then pulls forward and discusses present day content. Specifically, how it has shifted from dissecting an art form into something else entirely. He says that today “a David Lean movie, a cat video, a Super Bowl commercial, a superhero sequel, a series episode” are all considered content.
Scorsese is discussing the insurmountable problem that is built with the amount of contemporary media, whether that be on televisions, social medias, or cinemas. The problem does not come from the amount of content out there, but, well, the content of it. There is a certain lack of growth to be had with much of the media coming out.
He then starts to get into the history of cinema and the growth that came weekly. He writes,”The cinema has always been much more than content, and it always will be, and the years when those films were coming out from all over the world, talking to each other and redefining the art form on a weekly basis, are the proof.” That’s the type of cinema Scorsese is itching for.
While his comments about MCU movies in 2019 left people in a frenzy, the artist has a point. There is a huge difference between a Fellini film and a Marvel film, but that is not necessarily a bad thing, and is actually the beauty of cinema within itself. Marvel films do not connect with Scorsese, but it could connect with someone else that identifies with the energy of thousands of characters coming into fight the climatic battle. And for Scorsese that feeling comes with something else entirely: it’s a film like 8½.
He then focuses in on the 8½ director. He says, “Let’s say you wanted to describe the surreal atmosphere at a dinner party, or a wedding, or a funeral, or a political convention, or for that matter, the madness of the entire planet—all you had to do was say the word “Felliniesque” and people knew exactly what you meant.”
Scorsese goes on to discuss his relationship with the filmmaker’s work, but also the person and friend Federico Fellini eventually became. It is heartwarming to see how inspirational Fellini was on Scorsese, and near the end of Fellini’s death, how close they came to working together.
The Goodfellas director then comes back to modern cinema. He believes that everything has changed. He says, “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.”
Smaller films that are great, but get minimal return on investment have no chance of being able to make another similar film or sequel. The goal of studios now is to focus on making money. Whether that be in the cinemas or on a streaming service.
Scorsese ends with a call of action he says that “Those of us who know the cinema and its history have to share our love and our knowledge with as many people as possible.” He continues by saying that these artistic films, that studios have the rights to, “are among the greatest treasures of our culture, and they must be treated accordingly.”
It’s certainly an interesting piece and provides more proof that Scorsese’s 2019 comments meant no disdain toward blockbusters, but more-so a respect for the art form of cinema. An art form that can be so moving, real, and lovely that it brings all sorts of emotions to any person. An art form that is sometimes forgotten as an art form and is just referred to merely as “entertainment”
For the full op-ed go to Harper’s Magazine. It is a lengthy, but an incredible read by someone who was moved by films in his youth, and has moved millions around the world in his adulthood.