For American viewers of an intellectual/historical persuasion, there could scarcely be any documentary more enticing, scintillating and downright fascinating than Best of Enemies. A sort of brainy equivalent of the Ali-Frazier boxing matches of the same general era, the televised debates between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal during the two national political conventions in the convulsive year of 1968 comprised a watershed event in several ways, all of which are reflected in this outstanding documentary that will prove riveting both to those who have general memories of watching the broadcasts at the time and to younger political buffs who may never before have seen these titans of articulation and elocution in action.
No one would call Gore Vidal a big old sweetie pie, but some people who knew him were aware that this most acerbic of wits and nettlesome of contrarians could be generous and kind. One such is Michael Mewshaw, a freelance journalist and novelist, whose Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal purports to be what its title suggests: a memoir of friendship, and it is that, I guess, in the sense that Mewshaw occupied the position of friend. As such, he is able to show us aspects of Vidal — fastidious and unflappable in his public persona — that the man might have preferred to remain private; specifically a few instances of quiet benevolence and discreet charity, and many more of anger, resentment, churlishness, and drunkenness.
The difference between the private, welcoming Vidal and the tough customer he presented himself as in public fascinated Mewshaw:
"This astringency, this belligerent self-sufficiency, might have been necessary early in his career. But even after he achieved riches and renown, he gave the impression of being pereptually embattled. Maybe it galvanized him; maybe the struggle produced better work. Still, I wondered how much it cost him to keep fighting against enemies real and imagined."
Michael Mewshaw's new book is Sympathy for the Devil. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24.)
Vidal’s Myra, the militant transgender feminist, was dangerously close to my own idea of an ideal queer: a person so aggressively gay as to be a kind of enemy of the state. The fact that she was created by someone very much a friend of the state—notoriously political and, for lack of a better word, conservative—made it all the more satisfying as a paradox. That the desire to create Myra and the desire to write about the American Civil War could exist in one person was too thrilling—and thrillingly bizarre—for me analyze too closely. What I did start to question was how Vidal—and Myra—had slipped under my radar for so long.
Above all else, “The United States of Amnesia” convincingly makes the case that Gore Vidal was something of an oracle, well ahead of his time on many topics—homosexuality, the corporatization of American politics, the disastrous consequences of American foreign policy, the hollow office of the presidency and the mounting animosity toward the U.S. from abroad. He traced the contours of a country that squandered the dream of republic in its ongoing march toward empire, and though the many faces of Vidal might have confounded some of his audience, his words hold up in the final analysis. He may not have a rightful heir, but he leaves behind his work, along with one last backward glance in this film—and he still looks sharp, even from so far away.
READ THE REST OF THE REVIEW at www.truthdig.com and follow links there to Vidal's essay's for TruthDig. Some of the comments there touched on Vidal's mental decline. Reiterating what the Gore Vidal Pages posted as part of the conversation:
In the end--but not at the time of the filming of documentary--Vidal did come to suffer from dementia and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which is sometimes called "wet brain". No reporting nor the gossip mill have said that he had Alzheimer's, however.
Vidal clearly became less mentally sharp in his later years, certainly during the time of the filming of the documentary, Vidal was well past his prime mentally. But, that happens to virtually all people if they live long enough. He outlived most of his friends and enemies alike--everyone from Vonnegut and Paul Newman to Mailer, Capote, and Buckley.
Thankfully, Vidal lived long enough for Wrathall to produce this film with a fair amount of original footage. The scenes of Vidal's departure from Ravello were among the first that Wrathall captured. (That's why the house looks empty and in the scenes of Vidal at his desk the bookshelves behind him are empty. Everything had been packed up already.)
Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia. Opening in L.A. tonight! Rolling out also on video on demand (VOD).
Click the image to enlarge.
Nicholas Wrathall, director, writer, and producer of Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, has an op-ed in the Advocate. In this op-ed, Wrathall focuses less on Vidal's political opinions and ground-breaking, award-winning, and best-selling historical novels and more on how he's influences America's thinking about sexuality and gender.
Gore’s work played such a critical role in challenging the status quo and shaking up the sexual conservatism lingering from the 1950s.
Always outspoken and with strong opinions and a deft wit, Gore loved to be provocative, which made for great material for the film.
I believe The United States of Amnesia captures Gore at his provocative best; it includes a wealth of witty and biting analysis of American history and politics and serves to remind us why he will forever stand as one of the most brilliant and fearless critics of our time.
READ THE ENTIRE OP-ED AT www.advocate.com
Gore Vidal—which opens Friday, June 6, at the Ken Cinema and screens for one week only—focuses on its subject's revisionist writing on American history in the final act. Here, Vidal challenged myths surrounding Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy in order to create important "counter-narratives." It was his hope that this would remind citizens that history was fallible, something that can be manipulated by the powerful to seize control. If amnesia takes over, we're doomed.
The reviewer notes how Vidal made bold strides in cinema, citing Myra Breckinridge, the 1970 film based on Vidal's 1968 saterical novel of the same name (and which Vidal always readily acknowledged was a badly-done work of cinema.
But, Vidal pushed boundaries in cinema subtly, too, not just boldly. The best example might be how he wrote into the script for Ben-Hur (1959) the background fact that the character Messala, played by Stephen Boyd, and the protagonist Ben-Hur had been lovers and Messala wants to rekindle the relationship. Director William Wyler instructed Boyd to go with Vidal's interpretation but chose not to tell Charlton Heston. Boyd's body language communicates this in the film but Heston was kept oblivious. This is discussed in the documentary The Celluloid Closet (1995), which includes brief interviews with Vidal.
A rediscovery is in progress of Gore Vidal, one of the 20th century's great and often prescient public intellectuals. Jerry Portwood expertly sets the scene for his strong, concise interview with Nicolas Wrathall whose documentary, Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia opens in Los Angeles on June 6.
The prolific man of letters published 25 novels, two memoirs, and several essays and pamphlets, along with his plays, TV dramas, and screenplays. Oh, and he ran for political office and was an articulate critic of American foreign policy.
Directed by Nicholas Wrathall, the film features the final on-camera interviews with the iconic man, including surprising late-life moments with Mikhail Gorbachev and Christopher Hitchens, as well as archival footage rarely seen archival footage featuring Norman Mailer, William F. Buckley, Dick Cavett, and Jerry Brown. Since it would be impossible to create a viewable omnibus that encompasses Vidal's professional life that spanned 50 years, the film limits its focus to Vidal's political career and debates....
From the interview:
On why [Nicholas Wrathall] spent seven years documenting [Vidal]:
I never knew it would be this much time [laughs]. What first motivated me was his outspokenness after 9/11. I was living in New York and, after the towers came down, it seemed to be a blur of slow-motion flag waving and bellicose drumbeating in the media. To have someone like Gore cut through that and say, 'We need to investigate; we don’t know who’s responsible for this' was important. Then he wrote those pamphlets, 'Dreaming War' and 'Blood for Oil,' which were popping up in airport bookstores. I read all of those. I knew a lot about him before, but then I started reading his essays and other work. I realized, This is someone who is not going to be around forever, and he’s an important voice in American culture that needs to be heard.
Read the entire interview at www.out.com
I’m not sure there is a better, or more important, example of someone not giving a damn than the late Gore Vidal, who died two years ago this summer. As a public voice for seventy years, Vidal unforgettably ruffled many feathers, not just as a provocateur, but as an intellectual whose opinions often came well before society was ready to hear them. Vidal was the man who warned about the five-percenters well before they became the one-percent; who stated that “homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality;” and warned of the “corporate grip on opinion.”
He was the controversial author, and more controversial public speaker. Vidal was the man who sparred with Joe Pesci in With Honors, lent his pen to some of Hollywood’s most iconic and notorious films, was close with icons from the Kennedys to wonder-couple Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and was even interviewed by Ali G.
Now he’s the subject of Nicholas Wrathall’s new documentary, Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, and it’s a perfect time to take seven peeks into his legacy.