Best of Enemies(2015)
Cast includes: Gore Vidal, William F. Buckley, Christopher Hitchens, Noam Chomsky, Matt Turner, Kelsey Grammer (voice of Buckley), John Lithgow (voice of Vidal)
Writer/Directors: Robert Gordon (Jonny Cash’s America), Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet from Stardom)
Genre: Documentary | History | Humor (87 minutes)
From Gore Vidal’s Amalfi Coast home, it’s not the spectacular Mediterranean view that’s most significant… it’s the photos on the bathroom walls. In the “place of honor” are photos of the 1968 debates with William F. Buckley. Although the idea of a rematch “would attract people because of the possibility of…” “violence,” says Buckley, finishing the sentence, TV viewers never got their rematch. The film takes us back to 1968, when ABC was the number-3 network. “It would have been 4th, but there were only 3.” ABC needed to try something different. When asked, the highly debonair, eloquent and opinionated editor on the “National Review,” William F. Buckley, said the only person he wouldn’t share a stage with was Gore Vidal… “the devil.” Gore Vidal, “America’s biographer,” was a prolific historic novelist, as well as the author of controversial works, such as “Myra Breckinridge”… a satire about gender and sexual norms.
Somehow, ABC managed to pull off the match… booking the most outspoken social critic from the Right to debate the most outspoken social critic from the Left for 10 rounds following the broadcast of the Republican and Democratic conventions. Starting with the Republicans in Miami… Buckley didn’t bother to prepare… instead, he went sailing. Well prepared, Vidal immediately came out swinging… determined not only to take on Republicans, but to destroy his nemesis, Buckley. Buckley countered with strong jabs… “Why should we concern ourselves with opinions of the author of Myra Breckenridge”? We know your tendencies to be… feline.” For his part, Vidal never uttered the name of Buckley’s publication. He simply called it “your little magazine, which I don’t read.” Despite mishaps along the way, ABC garnered 87% of the viewing audience as Buckley and Vidal turned debate into blood sport. “There’s nothing fake. They really do despise one another.”
Fast-forward to today… we now know the landmark 1968 spectacle started a tradition of blood-sport debates. The vitriol has become a television mainstay, but sadly, the intelligence and often-clever repartee has fallen by the wayside. That’s not to say the Buckley-Vidal debates were always intelligent. The most memorable exchanges happened on the very last day… “I’ll stop calling you a queer when you stop calling me a crypto-Nazi.” Buckley never recovered from losing his cool on national TV. He attempted to get the last word later, via magazine interviews and a 3-year unwinnable lawsuit, but the 2 never had a televised rematch. Best of Enemies is an excellent film, with a superb narrative and great clips from the debates. It paints a vivid picture of the era and the media. It also explores the lasting impact of what happened in 1968. Years later, the semi-reclusive Vidal continued to lament the anti-intellectual tendencies of American culture… “People tend to feel they have less to fear from a stupid man than from an intellectual. Actually, they have more to fear from the stupid man.” Seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same.
3 popped kernels
Bitter enemies William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal debate each other in 1968, and political debate was changed forever
Rated: R (Language)
Gender Style: Bold
Distribution: Art House
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished Realism
Nutshell: 1968 political conventions and debates
Social Significance: Informative & Thought Provoking