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The 50 Year Argument Rages On

Thursday, 22 January 2015 16:34

Senior Arts Editor Mark Wigmore is here with the latest from one of the world’s greatest film makers.

Martin Scorsese returns to the world of documentary film with his long time collaborator, David Tedeschi.Together they bring you “The 50 Year Argument”.

What is that argument? It is one of ideas, opinions, science, human nature and politics presented by one of the most respected and sometimes controversial publications in American history, The New York Review of Books. The promise was an unflinching and intellectual look at not only books, but ideas in general. In 2013, this vehicle for some of the greatest minds in literature celebrated 50 years, and Scorsese alongside Tedeschi not only wanted to document it, but give context, on film, to a magazine that inspired both of them for decades. At the New York Film Festival, Martin Scorsese described his first encounter with the magazine as a young student in 1963.

The New York Review of Books actually came to be thanks to a strange brew of events that border on accidental. It just so happened that the Review’s editors happened to be living near each other when the New York Times was on strike in the early 60s. Books were desperately in need of publicity, these guys didn’t think much of the NYT book reviews, and they had the tools to try something different. Editor Bob Silvers knew it was a unique opportunity to enter the marketplace.

The topics?
-    Were the North Vietnamese actually an oppressive regime as opposed to victims of the American war machine?
-    The realities of the cold war examined
-    Often unpopular or agitating commentaries on Middle East conflicts
-    And as you will hear in this debate, Gore Vidal’s declaration that Norman Mailer hates women on the same level as Charles Manson.

The film offers excellent footage and interviews with names like Mary McCarthy, Joan Didion (who dismantled the story behind the Central Park 5), Poet Robert Lowell and Darryl Pinckney. There is archival footage filmed in the Review’s 1960s offices, pictures and portraits of all the players, and up to date interviews with editors and contributors.

As the various writers chime in on the importance of this publication, the overarching narrative really is a celebration of what journalism can strive to be. Instead of shying away from the often polarizing responses to intellectualism, The 50 Year Argument celebrates the passion for an idea, and the unrelenting curiosity of great minds at work.

Beyond that, If you are like me, you have had that experience where you pick up a work of academia in magazine format. Even though you may not know the topic, you plough on anyway and feel good about better understanding the world. It’s that type of experience that this publication has offered for decades.

The 50 Year Argument opens Friday January 23rd at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema – it runs through February 6th. for showtimes.


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