Crossing the Streams
The moment cinephilia is tied to personal nostalgia, as it is in Martin Scorsese’s essay [“Il Maestro,” March], intellectual distinctions become tenuous. Scorsese laments the devaluing of art as “content” by his philistine employers and by viewers accessing cinema in their homes, yet he has no qualms about admitting that he first saw La Strada on television. Moreover, he grew up with movies as an art form before having to wrestle with them as a business, whereas I grew up in a family of Alabama exhibitors and eventually underwent the opposite trajectory, discovering film art in New York around the same time he did.
Scorsese is a cinephile who has clearly done extraordinary and generous work in making world cinema more widely available, but you’d never guess this from reading his writing about Fellini and contemporary film culture. Here he seems to confuse personal predilections with history, but my choices as a consumer aren’t his.
For me, film culture remains in some ways as vital as it was in the Sixties. It’s just as social, but the social conduits are different—we’re less inclined to see films together, more apt to discuss them before and afterward on the internet, and we can no longer claim to know about all of them. We’ve splintered into niche markets, but the tragedy of this dispersal is balanced out by the fact that there is so much more available to everyone, everywhere, beyond the big cities.
In New York in 1965, you could see Godard’s Alphaville, but you couldn’t see Godard’s favorite film of that year, Yuliya Solntseva’s jaw-dropping The Enchanted Desna, which you can now access for free and with English subtitles on YouTube. And what about all the Iranian, Chinese, and Taiwanese masterpieces that were ignored in the so-called Golden Age? It doesn’t matter whether they have commercial potential or Oscar recognition as long as we can finally see them, in some cases half a century later. And there are countless other treasures waiting to be found, for those who care to explore.
Fellini was certainly a master of spectacle—especially in his 1952 The White Sheik, which I believe (and Orson Welles agreed) was his best picture, and which Scorsese doesn’t even mention—but not so interesting when it came to most of his ideas, either about cinema or about life. I agree that 8½ also represents an audiovisual peak, but most of his subsequent filmography registers as a formless, undifferentiated mass, delivered with the same intensity: an endless stretch of the Felliniesque like a massive loaf of salami, sadly illustrating the maxim that style can become simply a miscarriage of form.
YouTube offers plenty of alternatives. Scorsese may have to listen to the content-mongers, but I don’t.
For much of the first half of the twentieth century, audiences would go to the movies. Couples would simply show up at a theater regardless of what was showing. (Having sat through the latter half of a film, they would wait for the beginning of the next screening; when they got to the point they’d already seen, one would say to the other, “Here’s where we came in.”) Starting in the Fifties, viewers newly accustomed to television began going to see a movie—singular. This was around the time that cinephilia as we know it was born.
The Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, to his credit, astutely reversed this historical trajectory. I recently asked a cousin of mine in western Michigan what sort of films she watches and she said, “We see Netflix.” You no longer need to search out a film. Go to Netflix. They will have something you want to see.
New York City
The Way of All Mesh
I read Trudy Lieberman’s feature on the problems associated with hernia mesh [“In the Net,” Report, March] with great interest. The fact that a quarter of patients experience pain even after the mesh has been surgically removed is shocking. Equally shocking is that this problem seems to have been allowed to continue in the name of profit and expediency, coupled with a failure of regulatory oversight by the Food and Drug Administration.
Lieberman cites a number of statistics that drive the point home. Strikingly, she writes, paraphrasing a surgeon,
The chance of a recurrence after a mesh repair is probably about 3 percent; the chance after a non-mesh repair is about 4 percent. To achieve the 1 percentage-point decrease, around 15 percent of mesh patients are likely to experience long-lasting pain.
The combination of profit seeking and lax FDA oversight has predictably led to a torrent of lawsuits on behalf of those who have been harmed by mesh in hernia repairs. I can only hope that the trend back toward traditional surgical repair continues.
Richard L. Newman