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Categories: Interviews

On the first day of Sheffield Doc/Fest, Hussain Currimbhoy, the director of programming was over the moon to present The 50 Year Argument. The documentary by Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi explores 50 years of arguments at the New York Review of Books.

Founded in 1963, the magazine has become the outlet for intellectual debates which have had an impact on American issues. And this is portrayed beautifully in The 50 Year Argument.

It portrays a trustworthy and calm editor, Robert Silvers, who has ruled the NYRB offices for the past 50 years. His quest has been for brilliant writing, not established opinions. From the magazine’s 50 birthday, the documentary travels back in time to portray the fights between its writers and the issues it has taken a stand on.

With archive footage and scenes from the offices (a book titled Social Media is Bullshit says a lot about the magazine’s online presence), the audience gets a great sense of what it is like to write for the magazine, and how it managed to become such a great influence.

The film cites from the magazine’s articles to retell history and how it influenced it. This is done elegantly, with extracts popping up on the screen, using the magazine’s style. It plays with the type and the text to visualise the words read by the narrator.

After the screening, while David Tedeschi answered the audience’s questions, Martin Scorsese popped up on the big screen via skype.

“I can’t believe I’m talking to Martin Scorsese,” said a starstruck woman in the audience when she asked the director a question.

The magazine was founded during a newspaper strike, and Scorsese saw the first edition when there hadn’t been any papers for 90 days. “I’ll never forget seeing that first issue,” he said. “I was hooked, but I didn’t get it.

The two directors had to go through an abundance of material and articles, “but none of it seemed trivial,” said David Tedeschi. He wanted to portray the impact that this magazine, founded by only five people, had on society.

Martin Scorsese sought to awaken curiosity, and to present an outlet that appears dry in its content from its argumentative side that has effectively changed lives. He thought of his children, who perceive the world in such a different way than he used to.

In an age in which longform writing has almost disappeared, he asked “how do we get people excited, especially these days when we need to get information quickly.”

The film thus portrays a community of ideas, and how to keep them flowing by authors arguing their case. “It’s predisposed to human fights,” said Martin Scorsese, many of which he illustrates in The 50 Year Argument, mostly Norman Mailer against everyone else.

The language we use to express ideas was used like music to carry us through these 50 years of arguments that present the whole spectrum of humanity.

The Spread

The Spread is the official magazine of London-based film community Cinema Jam. We cover everything film, from movie and product reviews, features, editorials, news updates, interviews, and more. Follow @CinemaJam on Twitter for more updates!

Posted on Aug 11, 2014

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