The 50 Year Argument: Film Profiles of Great Minds

50YearArgumentPoster1I have watched (and re-watched, and re-watched) Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi’s filmed love letter to the New York Review of Books, celebrating its 50th anniversary last year: The Fifty Year Argument (2014). This documentary is a smorgasbord of intellectual, political, and literary history.

It begins with the NYRB’s real-time coverage of the Occupy Movement in Zuccotti Park back in 2011. It then wends its way back and forth in time. Here are just my favorite moments:

-The 1963 New York Paper Strike that led to the founding of the NYRB, bouncing off of Elizabeth Hardwick’s hatchet-job of the New York Times Book Review, published in Harper’s Magazine, titled: “The Decline of Book Reviewing.”

-An incredible recording of James Baldwin discussing who really created “the nigger.”

-Various great writers and thinkers like Zoe Heller discussing the educating power of the Review.

-Comparisons of current political coverage, such as the uprising in Egypt in 2011, to coverage of the Vietnam War (including articles by and recordings of Noam Chomsky and Mary McCarthy).

-A fantastic segment on the furious debates surrounding Women’s Liberation, with footage of Norman Mailer being his usual asshole-ish self in Town Bloody Hall, Susan Sontag rebutting him, Gore Vidal going toe-to-toe with Mailer on the Dick Cavett Show, etc.

-Derek Walcott reflecting on his relationship with poet Robert Lowell.

-Readings from other famous, favorite writers of mine, like Michael Chabon, Joan Didion, Daniel Mendelsohn.

Amazing.

The film has whet my appetite for documentaries of great literary lights of the past. I tried to satiate this appetite by watching a documentary of Gore Vidal, available on Netflix Instant, titled Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia (2013).

Unfortunately, I wasn’t as entertained or educated by this film. It felt a bit meandering, and I was distracted by what I thought was a poor score.

But now I have something to look forward to: the December 8th release of another HBO documentary: Regarding Susan Sontag (2014).

I cannot wait to learn more about this influential 20th century critic.

Via The New Yorker archives

Via The New Yorker archives

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