By: Addison Wylie
The 50 Year Argument documents the persuasive, opinionated history of the highly regarded publication The New York Review of Books. The film chronicles the exclusive timeline decently, although the doc’s pacing and organization feels like it keeps us in our seats for fifty years.
In the early 60’s, during the New York printers strike, The New York Review of Books found its footing as a magazine that didn’t feel tethered by opposing views. Articles earned admiration for the finely articulated standpoints, and the many contributors who found their voice commend the publication. Some openly admit that the experience paid off so well that it inspired further education in their careers.
These featured writers are well versed and hold a deep appreciation for the written word. They pull up memories of when they provided coverage of world issues, and their eyes beam with profound feeling. Further acknowledging the vast effect that The New York Review of Books had on them, as well as the society they were living in.
The 50 Year Argument was directed by David Tedeschi and Martin Scorsese. Scorsese’s contribution to the project feels like more of a guiding hand overlooking the material since the documentary has the presence of a first timer taking their first swing at filmmaking.
This is, in fact, Tedeschi’s first directorial endeavour. While he’s done a very good job collecting the material, the way everything is edited together gives off a lethargic presentation. Tedeschi comes from an editorial background (he edited Scorsese’s electric Rolling Stone concert flick Shine a Light), but he’s strictly focused on directing and producing this time around. He’s left the editing duties to Paul Marchand and Michael J. Palmer, and I don’t think that was such a good idea. This is a film that needed the subject’s vibrato to last longer than it does here. Tedeschi could’ve picked up the slack.
The 50 Year Argument is also brought to audiences by HBO, a studio that usually excels in the documentary genre – Downloaded and Valentine Road to name a couple of winning examples. The 50 Year Argument marks a low point for HBO, and is – by far – the studio’s least involving film. That said, Tedeschi and Scorsese’s civil doc isn’t stuffy or too self-righteous, which are two avoidances to be thankful about.
The 50 Year Argument has the required ingredients to factually inform the audience of The New York Review of Books, but the documentary fails to keep up with the past.