Martin Scorsese on How “Diversity Guarantees Our Cultural Survival,” in Film and Everything Else

Image by “Sieb­bi,” Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

When Fed­eri­co Felli­ni died in 1993, New York Times obit­u­ary writer Bruce Weber made a con­fes­sion: “I nev­er cared for his movies.” In a dec­la­ra­tion of “rag­ing mid­dle­brow-ism” echoed by Dan Kois’ 2011 admis­sion of his lack of inter­est in “eat­ing my cul­tur­al veg­eta­bles,” Weber writes that “Last Year at Marien­bad was such a baf­fle­ment years ago that I gave up on it and fell asleep in the the­ater, and chances are I’ll nev­er go back and see it again. Among windy Amer­i­can nov­els I still pre­fer Lone­some Dove to Grav­i­ty’s Rain­bow and, to extend the argu­ment to non-nar­ra­tive forms, as inno­v­a­tive as John Cage and Andy Warhol were, I still hear noise and see a soup can.”

This drew a response from no less accom­plished a film­mak­er — and no less omniv­o­rous a film-lover – than Mar­tin Scors­ese. The direc­tor of Taxi Dri­verRag­ing Bull, and Good­fel­las found dis­tress­ing less Weber’s opin­ion than “the under­ly­ing atti­tude toward artis­tic expres­sion that is dif­fer­ent, dif­fi­cult or demand­ing,” liken­ing it to that of a then-recent Bud­weis­er com­mer­cial asso­ci­at­ing “for­eign films” (of which we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured Scors­ese’s list of 39 essen­tials) with “weak­ness, com­plex­i­ty, tedi­um. I like action-adven­ture films too. I also like movies that tell a sto­ry, but is the Amer­i­can way the only way of telling sto­ries?”

The issue goes well beyond cin­e­ma and Scors­ese knows it, fram­ing it not just as a mat­ter of “film the­o­ry” but as one of “cul­tur­al diver­si­ty and open­ness. Diver­si­ty guar­an­tees our cul­tur­al sur­vival. When the world is frag­ment­ing into groups of intol­er­ance, igno­rance and hatred, film is a pow­er­ful tool to knowl­edge and under­stand­ing.” By the end of his response, Scors­ese argues not against Weber but against the very mind­set that “cel­e­brates igno­rance” (and “unfor­tu­nate­ly con­firms the worst fears of Euro­pean film­mak­ers”) by, like that beer spot, ask­ing ques­tions such as “Why are for­eign movies… so for­eign?” only to con­clude, “Why ask why?”

Scors­ese, in turn, clos­es with a few ques­tions of of his own:

Is this closed-mind­ed­ness some­thing we want to pass along to future gen­er­a­tions?

If you accept the answer in the com­mer­cial, why not take it to its nat­ur­al pro­gres­sion:

Why don’t they make movies like ours?
Why don’t they tell sto­ries as we do?
Why don’t they dress as we do?
Why don’t they eat as we do?
Why don’t they talk as we do?
Why don’t they think as we do?
Why don’t they wor­ship as we do?
Why don’t they look like us?

Ulti­mate­ly, who will decide who “we” are?

You can read Scors­ese’s full response at Let­ters of Note.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mar­tin Scors­ese Reveals His 12 Favorite Movies (and Writes a New Essay on Film Preser­va­tion)

Mar­tin Scors­ese Cre­ates a List of 39 Essen­tial For­eign Films for a Young Film­mak­er

Mar­tin Scors­ese Makes a List of 85 Films Every Aspir­ing Film­mak­er Needs to See

Mar­tin Scors­ese Intro­duces Film­mak­er Hong Sang­soo, “The Woody Allen of Korea”

Mar­tin Scors­ese Names His Top 10 Films in the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion

Mar­tin Scors­ese Names the 11 Scari­est Hor­ror Films

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Bobby says:

    He does­n’t under­stand that frag­ment­ing into groups cre­ates diver­si­ty. And he thinks cul­ture can be pre­served by the one and not the oth­er. Am I miss­ing some­thing here?

  • Randy says:

    There is no evi­dence that the world is frag­ment­ing into intol­er­ance. Rather, the wil­ful­ly blind have over­reached, and the ratio­nal and car­ing folk are push­ing back. In any case, Bob­by is right; diver­si­ty COMES FROM sep­a­ra­tion.

    But aside from that, there is a dif­fer­ence between shar­ing infor­ma­tion, per­haps vis­it­ing, and actu­al­ly invit­ing peo­ple to come in and stay for­ev­er, even though they are liv­ing in the past (and worse) that good chunks of your pop­u­la­tion have strug­gled to put behind us all.

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