HBO Documentary Films: THE 50 YEAR ARGUMENT

By Jef Dinsmore on Sep 30, 2014 to Documentaries

Doc-logoOverview: THE 50 YEAR ARGUMENT, directed by Oscar winner Martin Scorsese and longtime documentary collaborator David Tedeschi, debuted MONDAY, SEPT. 29 at 9:00pm ET. The documentary profiles the provocative and influential publication  The New York Review of Books and its charismatic and indefatigable founding editor, Robert Silvers, who, along with his co-editor, Barbara Epstein (who passed away in 2006), Doc_50YearArgumentPosterhas guided the Review  since its launch over a half-century ago.

Explains Martin Scorsese, “I have learned so much over the years from The New York Review of Books . It has given me so much that I jumped at the chance to make this film. And David and I both welcomed the challenge of making a film that reflected what is so unique about the Review, really, a film about the adventure of thought, and, as Colm Toibin puts it, the sensuality of ideas. I hope we succeeded.” The documentary uses rare archival material, original vérité footage filmed in the Review’s West Village offices, contributor interviews and portraits by celebrated photographer Brigitte Lacombe, along with excerpts from the work of iconic writers, illustrating the depth and breadth of the Review. This documentary is Mr. Scorsese’s third for HBO adding to PUBLIC SPEAKING and GEORGE HARRISON: LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD.

Expectations: Well, it happens on a occasion and it just did again; I am faced with a subject matter that does not thrill or intrigue me. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy books, quite literally. In fact, I’d rather a heavy tome or a dog-eared paperback in my hands than an e-reader. I have plenty of the former and not one of the latter. Having clarified that however, I am not a member of the intellectual literati. The New York Review of Books is “Greek to me” as they say. I do like the notion, however, of a place to generate and cultivate a dialog of deep thought on issues. The brief trailer doesn’t really make everything clear, but it is better than nothing.



Gut Reaction: THE 50 YEAR ARGUMENT ended up holding my attention. It actually throws a lot at a viewer; after all it is covering 50 years of history. It does so in an interesting manner. You got to credit the directors and editors of the piece for that.

Clearly this periodical has never been afraid to tackle the big issues that have been at the center of debate or taken to print through the years. Just check out its website here. This documentary is full of contributions and insights given by writers for the Review over the years and cites such subjects as the Vietnam War, racism and more. You really have to listen to what they say or read back because there are many cerebral Doc_50YearArgumentOfficethoughts there but when you digest what was stated it becomes clear and you learn how insightful and impassioned these writers have been and still are. They elevate a reader not just through reviewing the books that matter but by discussing the ideas, issues and concerns that matter. The documentary easily captures these notions and the history of the periodical and the contributors and editors that have made it all work.  

In Conclusion: If you want to embrace the intellectual and highly literate society, if you want to look at history and politics from a different perspective or even if you want to relish in the history of a the New York Review of Books because you never miss an issue than this documentary is for you.

I didn’t think I’d like it and I did and I am nowhere near the intellectual crowd. I’ll still take my visceral, primal VICE Media videos and magazine, but I do have awareness and respect for Mr. Silvers and his magazine. I have enough new found respect that I include this additional content about it straight from its About Page on its website and endorse THE 50 YEAR ARGUMENT has a documentary to watch even if you don’t think you care for the premise.  

It appears across the HBO channels throughout October and is on HBOGo.

Next Week: Another look at the wonderful world of Putin when HUNTED: THE WAR AGAINST GAYS IN RUSSIA debuts on 10.06.14.


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