The New York Review of Books: A 50 Year Argument
The New York Review of Books, founded in 1964 by Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein, has strong claims to being the major intellectual journal in the English-speaking world. For fifty years it has commented in its own unique way on the important issues of the day: feminism, counterculture, the fall of communism, climate change, the “war on terror”, the collapse of the banking system, and so on; all of these have been covered in depth by the very best writers in the field. The magazine’s stance effortlessly straddles the gap between journalism and academia. Barbara Epstein died in 2006, and for some years the whole burden of the editing the paper has fallen on the shoulders of Bob Silvers, a spry 84-year-old. Evidently, he enjoys his work, keeping a trained eye on everything from commissioning all the articles and book reviews to reading the finished proofs. (The journal is famous for never having misprints.) Silvers' taste and sensibility is indelibly stamped on the enterprise, and yet, in the tradition of all the finest editors, he knows that the way to get the best out of his contributors is treat them with respect, and grant them their necessary artistic freedom. Moviemaker Martin Scorsese is a longtime admirer of the magazine, and has even written for it. For the purposes of this documentary he visited the NYRB offices together with his co-director David Tedeschi and interviewed an assortment of the journal’s major writers. All of them wax eloquent about the pleasures and privileges of writing for Silvers. The archives have also been raided to good effect in order to uncover fascinating footage of past controversies of the day. Here for example are Norman Mailer, Susan Sontag and Gore Vidal battling it out over feminism; or Vaclav Havel eloquently defending freedom of speech in Eastern Europe at the time when it was still dangerous to do so. It is marvellous to have a record of this distinguished institution, and doubly marvellous that it has been done by Scorsese, who brings to the occasion his customary shooting skills, consisting of panache, good humour and enthusiasm.
Martin Scorsese, born in New York in 1941, has been one of the most profiled faces of “New Hollywood” since his film Mean Streets in 1973. In 1976 he received the Golden Palm for Taxi Driver, and in 1980 his Raging Bull was nominated for eight Oscars. Scorsese’s courageous and meticulous style led to his receiving the “Life Achievement Award” of the American Film Institute. He won the Oscar for Best Director in 2007 with The Departed. For his most recent film, The Wolf of Wall Street, he received his eighth Oscar nomination as Best Director.
David Tedeschi has been working as an editor since the 1990s, primarily in documentary. He worked with Michael Moore on the groundbreaking TV Nation and The Awful Truth, with Leon Ichaso on Piñero and on El Cantante for Picture House. He has worked frequently with Martin Scorsese on the director’s documentary since 2008. He was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Scorsese’s No Direction Home: Bob Dylan and an Emmy and ACE Eddie for George Harrison: Living In The Material World.