Martin Scorsese has just published an article about Fellini at Harper’s magazine, but which also discusses a bit the current sad state of cinema. Today, he says, everything has become merely indistinct “content”, and the magic of cinema and its artistic auteurs has been lost.
I tend to agree. When I was a teenager, I used to go to the now defunct street cinemas, or to specialized art cinemas, to watch films by Fellini, Truffaut, Renoir. Granted, in the 80s and 90s this was already a culture in extinction, much farther from the golden age of the 1960s and 1970s that Scorsese mentions, but there were still a few remains of that era.
Then the local cinemas were replaced by the multiplexes, which would show mostly super-hero movies or other blockbusters. Auteur or art cinema became an even smaller niche. And then cinema was replaced by television and streaming.
Going to the cinema is a social experience, closer to going to the theatre or to church; watching a film on television or VCR reduced this experience to a smaller screen and the familiar unit. People no longer paid so much attention to what was on the screen, it became a sort of mere background for other activities. Fellini was already very critical of television; he mentioned it in several interviews, and his “Ginger and Fred”, one of his last works, from the 80s, is a satirical view of the medium.
Today, of course, it’s even worse in some ways. Television was replaced by streaming, and the familiar unit was further reduced to an individual, watching it most likely on a cell phone screen. The reduction of the screen size and of the viewing public reflects the growing social atomization that took place in the last decades, culminating in the current “corona” lockdown where people are “social distancing” and locked in their own homes.
It was the final nail in the coffin of cinema as a social spectacle, and who knows if it will return? Even if the lockdown is lifted and people start going again to the cinemas, it is unlikely that the auteur era will return. This doesn’t mean that cinema as an art is dead, but its golden age seems long past.