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In brief: "Arguing the World"

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There are still plenty of intellectuals in New York, but “the New York intellectuals” as a compact group with common passions and a great magazine at their disposal -- The Partisan Review -- have all but vanished, leaving behind a disputatious roomful of books, memoirs, fallings-out, and reconciliations, as well as many studies of the group, not the least of which is the superb documentary Arguing the World, now playing at Film Forum. This film, written and directed by Jonathan Dorman, a public-TV veteran, is firm yet nuanced, accurate yet never pedantic. Using interviews and newsreel footage, Dorman has woven together the life and work of four representative members of the species -- Irving Kristol, Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer, and the late Irving Howe -- all of whom came from poor Jewish-immigrant backgrounds in New York and attended, in the thirties and early forties, City College, where they partook in endless debates over socialism, capitalism, democracy, and tyranny. All four were members of the anti-Stalinist left, but except for Howe they moved rightward after the war -- all the way right in the case of Kristol, who wound up tutoring the Reagan administration on the failures of liberalism. Dorman follows the complex pilgrimage of each with proper regard for detail and variation, and he lets us hear the men speak at some length. For the record: I am devoted to Irving Howe, whose writings have greatly affected my views of a hundred things; the movie brings his severe but humane consciousness back into focus with startling force.


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