THE 50 YEAR ARGUMENT 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), has guided the Review since its launch over a half-century ago.
Produced by Margaret Bodde, David Tedeschi and Martin Scorsese through the filmmaker’s Sikelia Productions banner, the feature-length film marks Scorsese’s third documentary to be presented on HBO, and Tedeschi’s first co-directing project with Scorsese. Their previous HBO collaborations include “Public Speaking” and the Emmy®-winning “George Harrison: Living in the Material World,” both directed by Scorsese. Bodde served as executive producer on “George Harrison: Living in the Material World” and producer on “Public Speaking,” while Tedeschi served as editor on both.
Explains Martin Scorsese, “I have learned so much over the years from The New York Review of Books – it’s 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 Review has such a venerable history, but what truly amazes me is how they engage with the world today,” says David Tedeschi. “Shortly after we finished the film, the CIA officially joined Twitter, and the Review responded by tweeting throughout the day excerpts from articles on the CIA black sites, on torture. That confrontational impulse is something we wanted to capture in the film.”
Through Scorsese’s inimitable filmmaking style, THE 50 YEAR ARGUMENT 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.
Confrontation and intelligent argument are in the publication’s DNA. “When we started the paper, we weren’t seeking to be part of an establishment,” says Robert Silvers. “We were seeking quite the opposite…to examine the workings and truthfulness of establishments, whether political or cultural.” With history as the backdrop, this examination is woven throughout the film. Mary McCarthy travels to Saigon during the Vietnam War to argue against the American presence there. Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer battle over feminism. Michael Greenberg chronicles the anger and frustration of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Joan Didion reads from her searing article about youths wrongly convicted in the 1989 Central Park Jogger case.
“Magazines don’t change the world, but they shape a certain kind of climate of ideas,” says contributor Avishai Margalit. “There is a metaphor: Influence goes like the knight in chess, one move straight, and then diagonally. It doesn’t go in straight lines.” THE 50 YEAR ARGUMENT captures the power of ideas in shaping history and documents that extraordinary process.
THE 50 YEAR ARGUMENT is an HBO Documentary Films presentation; a production of BBC Arena, Sikelia Productions and WOWOW in association with Verdi Productions and Magna Entertainment; edited by Paul Marchand and Michael J. Palmer; cinematography by Lisa Rinzler; portraits by Brigitte Lacombe; supervising producer, Mikaela Beardsley; executive producer for BBC Arena, Anthony Wall; executive producers for WOWOW, Hajime Hashimoto and Kayo Washio; executive producers, Chad and Michelle Verdi and Joshua Sason; produced by Margaret Bodde, David Tedeschi and Martin Scorsese; directed by Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi.