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Review: The 50 Year Old Argument


In a documentary profiling the New York Review of Books; its editors, contributors and rich history Martin Scorsese lends his well trained eye and professionalism while co-directing with David Tedeschi to a great and interesting piece of film.


The New York Review of Books was to American print media what Jazz is to Classical music, what the daring rebel child is to the smart perfect one; what Miley Cyrus now is to Miley Cyrus of Hannah Montana circa 2015. It is rebellious; it broke the rules, it dared to say what everyone else was not willing to; it was daring, fearless, uncompromising and controversial. Scorsese and Tedeschi plunge deep into the magazines thriving and thrilling 50 year history. The magazine and its contributors served up intelligent and insightful articles about politics, current and international events, commenting on literature and cultural history; all doing so not with the aim to shock or up its subscribers and readership but with the noble (though the contributors might not agree) belief that their readers deserved the uncompromised truth.

In the documentary; Scorsese and Tedeschi introduce the audience to each of the contributors; each enthralling us with the tale of how it is they came to work for the magazine. The matriarchs of the magazine the famous Robert Silvers; tell us of how their magazine first came to print and how he alongside co-editor Barbara Epstein carefully sought out most of their contributors (Elizabeth Hardwicke anyone? Jason Epstein, Truman Capote or Robert Lowell?) For their desire of their truth and their lyrical talent with words. The audience is treated to the contributors reading from some of their work; allowing us (who might not have read the magazine) to revel in their talents. The contributors it becomes clear are not just intelligent for knowing that this ridiculous number times this ridiculous number equals these numbers, but rather for their skillful seduction of words about current events, theology, politics and world events into masterful articles that closely resemble heart-breaking inspired poetry. We are treated to the mix of the archival stories and footage and Scorsese and Tedeschi are able to create a clear picture of what the New York Review of Books production was like then with Epstein and silvers co-editing and how Silvers works independently as editor now. I mean who knew a magazine article about either Hitler, racism or Bush could sound like such compelling poetry. We are treated to rarely seen footage of icons; important moments in history; moments of great cultural and political history.

I cant see anyone but the likes of Martin Scorsese helming this piece of film rich in sophistication, the documentary unfurls like the tenacious soulful energy of Miles Davis performing on his trumpet; drawing you in as though only wishing to leave you with a secret. The documentary gives the feel of the New York Review of Books; sophisticated yet indie; rich with intelligence yet shockingly honest.

It became a guessing game of spotting the famous artist for a while as I revelled in the sight of artists I held to highest esteem; from Andy Warhol, the Epstein’s, Gore Vidal and Robert Lowell. Most (if not all depending on who you ask) of Scorseses work is worth seeing (and only on the big screen) and this documentary is no different. It became a personal treat for myself, as a lover of words but even those who might not  be quite so passionate, this film is worth the trip, to be inspired and thrilled by this tribute to uncompromising, groundbreaking and honest journalism.


Amanda Ndaba is a graduate of AFDA, having studied Film & Live Performance. She is currently pursuing a career in 
creative writing.


The 36th Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) is organised by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (a special project of the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Humanities, Cheryl Potgieter) with support from the National Film and Video Foundation, , KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission, City of Durban, German Embassy, Goethe Institut, Industrial Development Corporation, Gauteng Film Commission, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture and a range of other valued partners.


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