Martin Scorsese’s Jewish Bookfellas

Director Eyes Tough Guys of New York Review of Books

The Wolf of Potsdamerstrasse: Scorsese premiered his new documentary as a work-in-progress at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.
Getty Images
The Wolf of Potsdamerstrasse: Scorsese premiered his new documentary as a work-in-progress at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.

By A.J. Goldmann

Published March 20, 2014, issue of March 28, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

“I’ve been reading, or trying to read, the New York Review of Books since 1963, since I was a student,” Martin Scorsese explained at last month’s Berlin Film Festival, where his “Untitled New York Review of Books Documentary” screened as a work-in-progress. “I saw it on a newsstand and it looked very different than the other publications. I grabbed it and haven’t stopped marveling at it and living with it for the past 50 years.”

Violence and profanity may seem to come more easily to Scorsese than the world of arts and letters, which the director admitted was a “tricky subject.” A collaboration with David Tedeschi, who has edited some of Scorsese’s documentaries and shares the directing credit here, the documentary is a candid look at the history of one of America’s most significant publications, which was founded during the New York newspaper strike of 1963 and recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

The New York of Scorsese’s films is often peopled with mobsters, small time hoods, and psychopaths. And so it may come as a surprise that his worldview was shaped, in part, by the liberal intellectuals who have contributed to the NYRB for the past half century.

In defining the publication’s mission, NYRB’s founder and current editor Robert Silvers once said, “The great political issues of power and its abuses have always been natural questions for us.” Silvers, who has guided the magazine from its inception, emerges as the film’s protagonist.

After the screening, Scorsese reminisced about encountering the magazine for the first time while studying at New York University.

“I was quite young, about 20 or 21 and I came from a world that was very different from the world of the Review. I found myself on the West Side of New York — I’m from the East Side — and from the West Side to the East Side it was like going to another planet in terms of an open-mindedness from the world that I was in, which was very medieval in a way. It was a very small Sicilian village, in a sense, transplanted into downtown New York: lower working class, which has become quite conservative after the Roosevelt years. And so, I never really thought about any of that. I was fascinated by the arguments that were posed and the points of view that disturbed me at first… [I came] from a house, an apartment that we grew up in, where reading wasn’t a habit. There were no books there. It was just struggling to find everything on my own really and this was the thing that started it.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.