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.
Through Scorsese’s inimitable filmmaking style, THE 50 YEAR ARGUMENT uses rare archival material, original verite 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.