Monday, July 07, 2014

Scorsese's NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS Documentary

New York Review of Books editor Robert B. Silvers in his office, as seen in THE 50 YEAR OLD ARGUMENT.

I got to see Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi's documentary feature THE 50 YEAR OLD ARGUMENT (about THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS) last night - I had to go looking for it online, as it has so far aired only on the BBC. The film's onscreen commentators surprisingly favor the British and Irish contributors to the venerable newsprint journal, and it may well be too intellectual to qualify for broadcast on PBS here in the States - and where else would you find it? But it's a surprising, welcome and often engrossing study of the leading role played by one publication in a time when American life was more involved and stimulating, when our culture was being actively determined by books and writers, by intellectualism, literacy and worldliness - as well as revealing yet another facet of Scorsese's love for the New York of his own life and times. In the 1970s, I was a regular reader of the NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS and probably a happier person for it; Scorsese and Tedeschi made me feel guilty for falling off the wagon. One speaker in particular reminded me of the importance of reading and responding to the work of one's own time, because literature is a dialogue; it is involvement and interaction that keeps literature vital and moving forward. No one should ever fear of writing the first book to be read by no one.

I found particularly engrossing a segment concerning Joan Didion's NYROB essay about four young black men arrested in connection with a series of Central Park rapes, and how they were subliminally pre-judged in the mainstream press by the introduction of the biasing term "wilding." So well did this word work on the fears of the city's influential white populace that the suspects were identified in the press with their full names - including that of one 14 year old later forensically proved innocent. Didion recalls that working with NYROB editor Robert B. Silvers increased the length of her essay by three-fold. I only vaguely recall the case, but I found this almost scary in its prescience, as our politicians now use similar tactics all the time in the press, against one another and against other countries, biasing the public with their loaded lingo. Didion is not only interviewed but shown reading from her essay.
When the film ends, you may feel appalled at the emptiness of our time, how our lives have become engulfed not only by ungrounded images, but images taken at face value in media that continually grows more tyrannical without context and without that grounding in an engaged and informed, conscious dialogue. Life should not be processed in clicks. 


According to VARIETY, THE 50 YEAR OLD ARGUMENT will debut on HBO on October 6. Not a likely outlet for this sort of programming, but bravo to them.

Also, reader John Seal writes:

"In light of your blogpost today, you may be interested to know the CP5 [Central Park 5] were finally (FINALLY!) exonerated...

"There's a very fine documentary about the case that I highly recommend: "



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