Alejandro González Iñárritu is weighing in on the state of cinema amid the streaming era.
The “Bardo” director called out criticisms that movies are diluted based on viewing platforms, adding that films by the likes of Jean-Luc Godard or Federico Fellini still succeed on a small screen.
“What I’m concerned about is less the technology, and the ways that people are watching cinema, but that there’s a dictatorship of ideas behind that. It’s about the movies that are being made to please that media,” Iñárritu told Deadline while in conversation with fellow directors Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón. “If you watch a Fellini or a Godard movie on your computer, it’s still a great movie. It doesn’t change the power of the idea. But I think the ideas are being reduced to computer size in terms of ideology, and I think everybody is participating in that. The reduction of the idea is what we should discuss, not the possibilities of the medium.”
Iñárritu continued, “It used to be that you could only hear music in the concert halls, and then records came along, and then the radio. If you hear Beethoven or Mozart on your headphones, does it stop being great music? Obviously, it’s better to go to the concert hall and hear 120 musicians play it live, but no matter how you hear it, it doesn’t diminish the idea behind the music.”
“Bardo,” del Toro’s “Pinocchio,” and Cuarón’s “Roma” all debuted on streaming platform Netflix, which makes movies available to view on laptops and even mobile devices, as well as select theatrical runs.
Del Toro agreed with Iñárritu, saying, “I think the size of the idea is more important than the size of the screen, definitely. Cinema — the marketing and financial side — has always tried to be constrained by rules. Right now, for example, you hear something like, ‘The algorithm says people need to be hooked in the first five minutes of the film,’ but that was true in the ’70s and ’80s. That’s always been true. You need to have a strong opening sequence.”
Del Toro added, “I think the cinema we’re getting now is post-Covid, post-Trump, post-truth cinema, and it’s very apocalyptic in a way. There are big movements happening that are very interesting. And we won’t be able to fully see them until 10 years from now, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss them. It’s a very interesting moment in cinema. A lot of it feels like end-of-days cinema, as people are not discussing it in that context. I think the beauty is the new voices will rise against this silliness in the same way we rose against the silliness in our own time.”
Cuarón then concluded, “This whole conversation about the death of cinema, yes, probably it’s the death of cinema in the way that you know it, but there’s a new cinema coming up, and why would it be dying now? What would be the reason? They make the case that, ‘Oh, fewer people are going to the cinema,’ but I don’t know: more people are hooked to their computers. We just need to acknowledge that the new generation engages with cinema differently. Of course, I love the experience of going to the cinema, and I go and see films in the theater as often as I can. But I’m by no means going to say it’s the only way to experience a film. There’s a lot of cinema I’m quite happy to watch on a platform. The platforms are getting the biggest hit in all of this because they don’t share their numbers, without opening the conversation up to what kind of theatrical support certain types of cinema are getting.”
He compared the rise of streaming to the transition from silent films to talkies: “At the end of the 1920s there was also this conversation about the death of cinema, because sound was coming in. They said it wouldn’t survive and people would stop going to the cinema,” Cuarón said. “I want to clarify, because in this conversation when we talk about the way cinema is punished, and ambition is punished, that is not coming from the platforms, because the proof of it is right here…I think we need to remember that and be humbler in the knowledge that new generations are going to come and take the best out of those tools to create an amazing means of expression. So, I think cinema will prevail.”
The “Three Amigos” also recently spoke at an Academy panel in Los Angeles last week. Read IndieWire’s recap here.