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The 50 Year Argument on HBO

You know, I really admire the celebration of intellectualism in “The 50 Year Argument”, HBO’s documentary about the creation and sustainment of the New York Review of Books, from co-directors Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi. So, I regret to quibble a bit when reporting that, although it’s consistently engaging and compelling, it never quite rises above the level of “very good”. It misses greatness by just skimming the surface throughout, and never staying locked on any one chapter of its history for very long. I’m certain that many would claim that is its strength. But, heck…I could’ve watched a whole hour on the Norman Mailer-Gore Vidal rivalry alone! Maybe a sequel/spinoff? That’s something to hope for. But check this thing out, for its historical resonance, and complete lack of sensationalism. It’s refreshing to witness Mr. Scorsese being able to still go this low-key, so soon after the bombast and flamboyance of 2013’s “The Wolf of Wall Street”. Scorsese is so completely free of the commercialism and sensationalism of his last few feature films, when he’s working in the documentary genre. It reminds me that the quintessential filmmaker is still “in there” somewhere, underneath the grandiosity that gave us the misguided “Hugo”. And in focusing his attention on the story of editors Robert Silvers, and the late Barbara Epstein, bringing the semi-monthly, eclectic, magazine collection of articles into existence–Scorsese is at his most incisive and probing. Just imagine if he had 6 hours instead of just 90 minutes–it could’ve been the best miniseries ever broadcast.

Grade:  B+


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