The 50 Year Argument

Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Martin Scorsese and his longtime documentary collaborator David Tedeschi, A 50 Year Argument rides the waves of literary, political, and cultural history as charted by the The New York Review of Books, America’s leading journal of ideas for over 50 years. Provocative, idiosyncratic and incendiary, the film weaves rarely seen archival material, contributor interviews, excerpts from writings by such icons as James Baldwin, Gore Vidal, and Joan Didion along with original verité footage filmed in the Review’s West Village offices. Confrontation and original argument are in the Review's DNA - the magazine seems as vital now as when it was run by its indefatigable founding editors, Robert Silvers and the late Barbara Epstein. Co-produced with the BBC's award-winning Arena and shaped by Scorcese's vivid filmmaking style, The Fifty Year Argument captures the power of ideas in influencing history.


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  • ★★★★ review by Craig Duffy on Letterboxd

    A wonderful defense of the written word and more importantly of criticism. I really dug how they integrated footage from Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 near the end. If you love reading and writing, this is the film for you!

  • ★★★★½ review by Matthew Donahue on Letterboxd

    Are you interested in a documentary about The New York Review of Books? How about that it's co-directed by Martin Scorsese? A "yes" to either question means you'll love it.

  • ★★★½ review by Ethan Tucker on Letterboxd

    An enlightening survey of a half-century of lucid dissent and disputation, The 50 Year Argument examines the history, influence and present state of the New York Review of Books. As an outlet for challenging and questioning authority it offers cultural value far beyond its remit - indeed, it's a Review first and foremost before it's a Review of Books. As the film shows, throughout its history the Review has questioned the accepted myths of society and news reporting and often found them wanting. The question remains: will this institution endure once its founders are no longer at the helm? Because it would be a sad loss to the world of intellectual thought if it does not.

  • ★★★★ review by George Pletz on Letterboxd

    Often when writing about documentaries I am struck by how hard they are to evaluate. The subject, if it is one you are interested in, will get over the imperfect presentation. As certain types of documentaries, like the political documentary, become abundant, even this can get tricky. The 50 Year Argument is on the surface about the history of the New York Review of Books but is many other things as well. It is a celebration of the nonfiction essays. It is about political dissent as it has manifested since NYRB came into existence.

    It is about the working relationship between writers and an very specific editor. It surely is no accident that this film is tightly composed. Stock footage, interview, and public events are entwined in a sophisticated braid of content and presentation that recognizes placement is everything. It never falls prey to the need to create discrete narrative conclusions - this is about creating an open ended continuum - and lets the history breathe. In this way it offers up some very interesting lines of inquiry for people interested in the topics touched upon. Could it lead to a person who has never read NYRB? Maybe. That this documentary manages not to sound like a pledge drive is a commendation in itself. But face it, with Scorcese in the mix, there is little of the reality television production tricks that tend over-saturate the modern documentary. If you have HBOGo this is an easy documentary to track down. And if your reading lists includes heavy lifting topics like politics, media criticism and race relations, this will certainly hold your attention.

  • ★★★★★ review by Trista on Letterboxd

    so unbelievable to see Scorsese in person!!!! made my life

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