I'm going public by admitting that I'm no fan of Martin Scorsese but do recognize him as one of the American contemporary master-filmmakers. But as everything in life -absolutes hardly exist- there are exceptions and the following letter absolutely is the exception that makes me "admire" Scorsese for being willing to make public what so many think about those countries where films with subtitles are not easily accepted.
The letter dated November 25, 1993 was published as a comment to an article in the New York Times on November 19, 1993. The letter date is important as was one week after Federico Fellini's dead.
Here is a copy and paste of the letter; if you wish to read it at the source I used please go here.
To the Editor:
“Excuse Me; I Must Have Missed Part of the Movie” (The Week in Review, 7 November) cites Federico Fellini as an example of a filmmaker whose style gets in the way of his storytelling and whose films, as a result, are not easily accessible to audiences. Broadening that argument, it includes other artists: Ingmar Bergman, James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, Bernardo Bertolucci, John Cage, Alain Resnais and Andy Warhol.
It’s not the opinion I find distressing, but the underlying attitude toward artistic expression that is different, difficult or demanding. Was it necessary to publish this article only a few days after Fellini’s death? I feel it’s a dangerous attitude, limiting, intolerant. If this is the attitude toward Fellini, one of the old masters, and the most accessible at that, imagine what chance new foreign films and filmmakers have in this country.
It reminds me of a beer commercial that ran a while back. The commercial opened with a black and white parody of a foreign film—obviously a combination of Fellini and Bergman. Two young men are watching it, puzzled, in a video store, while a female companion seems more interested. A title comes up: “Why do foreign films have to be so foreign?” The solution is to ignore the foreign film and rent an action-adventure tape, filled with explosions, much to the chagrin of the woman.
It seems the commercial equates “negative” associations between women and foreign films: 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 here is not “film theory,” but 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. To our shame, your article was cited at length by the European press.
The attitude that I’ve been describing celebrates ignorance. It also unfortunately confirms the worst fears of European filmmakers. Is this closedmindedness 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?
[New York, 19 Nov 1993]
Also suggest to read the recent NYTimes article from April 29, 2011 "Eating Your Cultural Vegetables" that you will find here.
More than 15 years after the letter was written is impressive how the largest movie market in the world -when you count only money- has not opened to world movies. Won't elaborate but have to comment that one of the consequences I dislike the most is the doing of "remakes" that never are as good as the original ones. Sigh.
By the way the conversation about "Cultural Vegetables" has been going on since April 2011 and I'm just joining today.