Legendary director Martin Scorcese has penned a scathing rebuttal of the current influence of Rotten Tomatoes and the obsession with box office in contemporary film culture.
In a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter, the 74-year old filmmaker behind such classics as ‘Taxi Driver,’ ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘Goodfellas’ takes stock of how the critical climate has changed in recent years, in particular since the rise of the internet, and much of it is not to his liking.
Scorcese writes, “Like everyone else, I’ve received my share of positive and negative reviews. The negative ones obviously aren’t much fun, but they come with the territory. However, I will say that in the past, when some critics had problems with one of my pictures, they would generally respond in a thoughtful manner, with actual positions that they felt obliged to argue.”
Noting how things have changed, the director notes, “When I was young, box office reports were confined to industry journals like The Hollywood Reporter. Now, I’m afraid that they’ve become…everything. Box office is the undercurrent in almost all discussions of cinema, and frequently it’s more than just an undercurrent. The brutal judgmentalism that has made opening weekend grosses into a bloodthirsty spectator sport seems to have encouraged an even more brutal approach to film reviewing.”
The key problem, Scorcese argues, are “market research firms” like Cinemascore, and review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes of which he remarks even the name is “insulting.”
Scorcese argues these outlets “have absolutely nothing to do with real film criticism. They rate a picture the way you’d rate a horse at the racetrack… They have everything to do with the movie business and absolutely nothing to do with either the creation or the intelligent viewing of film. The filmmaker is reduced to a content manufacturer and the viewer to an unadventurous consumer.”
This, the director says, has fostered a culture of “pure judgmentalism, people who seem to take pleasure in seeing films and filmmakers rejected, dismissed and in some cases ripped to shreds. Not unlike the increasingly desperate and bloodthirsty crowd near the end of Darren Aronofsky’s ‘mother!'”
Scorcese goes on to defend ‘mother!,’ praising the film as “beautifully staged and acted” with drama which “engulfs the characters and the viewers along with them,” and takes the “rush to judgement” of Aronofsky’s film as an example of what is wrong with today’s film culture.
Scorcese concludes, “Good films by real filmmakers aren’t made to be decoded, consumed or instantly comprehended. They’re not even made to be instantly liked. They’re just made, because the person behind the camera had to make them…
“Tomatometer ratings and Cinemascoregrades will be gone soon enough. Maybe they’ll be muscled out by something even worse. Or maybe they’ll fade away and dissolve in the light of a new spirit in film literacy.”
Well, if it makes any difference, most of Scorcese’s films are certified fresh at Rotten Tomatoes, some with very high scores indeed: ‘Mean Streets’ has 98%, whilst ‘Taxi Driver’ is at 99%.
Scorcese’s next – ‘The Irishman,’ with an all-star cast including Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel and Joe Pesci – is currently in production.