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film review

The 50 Year Argument is a documentary on the history and influence of the New York Review of Books.

In one of the few lighthearted moments in The 50 Year Argument, Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi's documentary about The New York Review of Books, the camera pans from one precariously-stacked pile to the next, as the voice of an unseen woman is overheard mid-conversation.

'We do receive quite a few books, um, but you're welcome to send it along.'

At the front of the room sits Robert Silvers, whose name has topped the august periodical's masthead since it was founded in 1963 by a coterie of lit types, including the poet Robert Lowell and writer Elizabeth Hardwick. '[W]e were not seeking to be part of an establishment,' Silvers says. 'Quite the opposite. We were seeking to examine the workings and the truthfulness of establishments, whether political or cultural.'

Filmed in 2013 on the occasion of the magazine's golden anniversary, this is not a behind-the-scenes portrait of the editorial process (like The September Issue or Page One) but, rather, a fascinating look back on the major social and political events of the second half of the 20th century and early years of the 21st, from Vietnam to the fall of the Soviet Union to Occupy Wall Street, as filtered through the magazine's pages.