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Martin Scorsese Offers Choice Words About Streaming-Focused Movie Industry

Martin Scorsese is a busy man. When he's not bashing superhero movies, he finds time to tackle his other movie-related pet peeve: online streaming. Once again, the legendary director would like to remind everyone that he is Not A Fan of movie streaming. At least not entirely.

The Irishman director's relationship with streaming movie sites like Netflix and Hulu is actually pretty complicated. At a 2017 appearance at the British Film Institute, Scorsese made it clear that he was against the entire concept of watching movies at home, both because there are too many distractions and because it removes the communal experience of theater viewing (via Screen Daily).

That didn't stop Scorsese from making a deal with Netflix to direct The Irishman. It probably didn't hurt that the streaming service was the only distributor willing to finance Scorsese's 209-minute epic and its dubious CGI de-aging effects. By 2019, Scorsese was calling streaming video a cinematic "revolution" on par with the advent of sound. 

But The Irishman didn't convert Scorsese into a movie streaming fanatic, despite that great Al Pacino scene from the film. In a 2021 essay for Harper's Magazine, Scorsese tried to make the case that movie streaming will eventually kill cinema.

Why The Irishman director isn't a fan of streaming movies

Scorsese's essay, "Il Maestro," is mainly a love letter to Italian director Federico Fellini and the neorealist movement in international cinema in the 1950s and '60s, which according to Scorsese produced some of the finest films ever made. But the essay also takes aim at streaming services and their use of algorithms, which recommend titles based on what a user has already watched. Usually, the algorithms simply lump films together by genre or subject matter, regardless of quality. "If you enjoyed Goodfellas, you may also like Analyze That." Per Variety, it's not the first time he's made this complaint. 

According to Scorsese, the algorithm is replacing the old way people used to find new movies to watch: curated recommendations from movie lovers. Scorsese recalls the Greenwich Village cinemas of the 1950s he used to frequent as a boy, where art house theater owners shared the best in modern film with the masses.

But audiences aren't the only ones who suffer. Today's directors are at a disadvantage, too. The greatest directors of the '50s and '60s neorealist movement were also avid moviegoers. Cinematic auteurs all influenced each other's work, and without the work of curators, their masterpieces wouldn't exist.

Scorsese admits that online streaming has helped the movie business overall, and that he's personally benefited. He also acknowledges that movies are never going to be just works of art. But streaming is pushing the industry too far to the "commercial" side of the ledger, in Scorsese's view. 

Thanks to streaming, movie studios will just keep pushing out the same movies. And for the director of such diverse classics as GoodfellasCasinoThe IrishmanThe Departed, Mean Streets, and Gangs of New York, that's unthinkable ...