Why Scorsese’s comments on cinema’s “value” are noble, but leave out the good streaming is doing

Director, Martin Scorsese on the set of the film SILENCE by Paramount Pictures, SharpSword Films, and AI Films by Paramount Pictures, SharpSword Films, and AI Films

Dan Buffa

First, let me say that I love Martin Scorsese’s utter adoration for the movies and their intent. If Hollywood needed a trustworthy tour guide of how make-believe became so prominent in our lives, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better one than the legendary director, a man who claims both Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio as his muses. 

Scorsese made waves Tuesday with a self-written essay about the film world’s current state of affairs in Harper’s Magazine, relating especially to its recent reliance on streaming services for viewing. To Scorsese, cinema is no longer sequestered in a snug little area of exploration, most notably the movie theater; Glorified apps are now packing and distributing classic films on their platforms. The romance in movie-seeking is slowly being deleted, with a brand new movie being as accessible as a Super Bowl advertisement each week; or at least that’s Netflix’s goal in 2021. A new movie every week!  

Scorsese isn’t wrong. He’s very much in the right about the tilt in Hollywood. Long before a pandemic closed theaters and strangled their attendance levels, streaming services were winning the boxing match slowly yet surely on points. First, rental shops, formerly unbeatable giants like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, were being gutted by Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Notable directors such as David Fincher, Spike Lee, and Scorsese himself were being lured into the new lion’s den. 

That’s right. Scorsese’s “The Irishman” wouldn’t have been made and distributed by a major studio, at least the way Netflix allowed it. Warner Brothers would have made him cast younger actors instead of spending millions on de-aging De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino-so he could tell a tale that spanned decades. Scorsese got to make the three-hour movie his way with the global media giant, instead of having a well-known theatrical studio force him to hamper his vision. (Personally, while a few shots border on “Art of War” Xbox visuals, I am glad he stuck with his veteran actors.) 

That’s what we, Scorsese included, can’t forget. Rich experiences in film still make it to our eyes. The route taken is just different. Instead of a projectionist setting a reel up and starting the show, a simple click on a remote can cue up a new film like “Judas and the Black Messiah” on HBO Max last Friday, even before a local theater could premiere it. As Pesci’s Russell Bufalino told De Niro’s sad Frank Sheeran, “it’s what it is.” 

Scorsese is already taking advantage, even if the chances of him making a comic book adaptation are still as good as you or me winning the lottery. He is merely confirming the new reality, one that is benefiting, and not hurting, filmmakers and creators. 

Remember this, moviegoers. A lot of people wouldn’t be working without Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Paramount Network, HBO Max, and the rest of the 89 different platforms. A lot of actors, writers, crew members, and even extras would be unemployed, dreaming about seeing their face and name on a menu. Great films can still be made. They’re just way, way more accessible in 2021 than they were in 2015. That’s it. 

The tide turned way back when a young actor-director-writer named Edward Burns released a very cheap independent film called “Nice Guy Johnny” back in 2010 on YouTube and iTunes. He released that film exclusively to those locations, bypassing a pathetic theatrical release that would have seen “Johnny” head open for a week in only a handful of theaters. Burns changed the game, paving the way for small films with big hearts to find people all across the world in one spot. Instead of diving into your newspaper for theater listings, you just picked up the laptop to watch it. Soon, the laptop became the phone, and the phone became your home television. 

The movies have gone the way of nearly everything in the consumer business. People don’t shop at Target or Walmart for everything; they just hop on Amazon and have it delivered. They want it fast and furious, just like their double cheeseburgers and triple-shot lattes. It’s not slowing down quality; just changing distribution. 

Look, I could be at the old man yelling at the crowd, or cloud. I could rage against streaming services and easy-to-find movies, but that would be like swimming up shore without shoulder muscles or a raft for when things get nasty. There will be movies released just in theaters, like Robin Wright’s “Land” this past weekend. But there’s also Judd Apatow releasing “The King of Staten Island” exclusively on-demand. Move with the tide, or you will basically drown in the moviemaking business. 

What Scorsese said is nothing new, and once again I praise him for sticking to his guns even while dipping his toes in the new magic waters with “The Irishman.” The essay was celebrating the life work of Federico Fellini, a legend of cinema. So, while talking about the way they used to do it, the Oscar-winning auteur saw a way to plug his feelings on film’s trend. Noble and stoic, but something that is becoming accepted and beneficial. The train isn’t turning around. He knows it, but still fights both sides helplessly, because that’s why we love guys like Scorsese. They stand up for what’s right and help us remember the good old days. I just hope he doesn’t forget about the good in the new method. 

As a mercenary soldier would say in a land far away and many galaxies ago, “this is the way.”