Scorsese pays homage to New York Review of Books in '50 Year Argument'

Fri Sep 26, 2014 1:09pm EDT
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By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Film director Martin Scorsese knew making a documentary about a revered literary review would be a challenge, so he approached "The 50 Year Argument" like a piece of music, using interviews and archival footage to convey the emotion.

In the film, which airs on premium cable channel HBO on Monday, Oscar-winner Scorsese and co-director David Tedeschi take a behind-the-scenes look at The New York Review of Books, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year and has influenced generations of writers and readers alike.

"I remember discovering it on the newspaper stand in '63 when it first came out," Scorsese said. "It still has an impact on me."

"The 50 Year Argument" details the review's founding through a series of timely coincidences - a New York newspaper strike, dissatisfaction with how books were being written about and a dinner party conversation.

Poet Robert Lowell and his wife, literary critic and author Elizabeth Hardwick, discussed the idea with editor and publisher Jason Epstein and his wife, Barbara. They turned to their friend Robert B. Silvers to edit it. Barbara Epstein, who died in 2006, joined him.

"We were not seeking to be part of the establishment; we were seeking to examine the establishment," Silvers, 84, who is still the editor, says in the film.

Although it began with the intent of reviewing books and championing writers, during its five decades it has grown into an institution, reporting on the arts, politics and major news ranging from Vietnam to Iraq with commentary from leading writers and thinkers.

"It really was a challenge," said Scorsese, "how to make it exciting and interesting to a young generation when information is immediate to them and opinions are everywhere."   Continued...

Martin Scorsese, best director nominee for his film "The Wolf of Wall Street", arrives at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California March 2, 2014.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson