Buckley and Vidal, each deemed a “national treasure” at the time, are now largely forgotten, which is sad. And we have no one like them today, which is sadder. We do have plenty of “public intellectuals” — scholars, thinkers, and literary types who write for the middle-to-highbrow press and give lectures at the 92nd Street Y. Some of them tub-thump against religion; some take brave stands on sexual culture; some run for political office. But their disputes play out on Twitter and other social media, before an audience fragmented into a thousand niche groups. And none of them are glamorous and magnetic the way Buckley and Vidal were....
Read the article at nymag.com.
Gore Vidal and William J Buckley were on opposing sides of the 60s political divide, and Best of Enemies adroitly shows what happened when they met head on....It’s set in a pre-culture wars America, where anti-intellectualism was prevalent but two articulate, self-indulgent and arrogant debaters could pull in huge television audience while lamenting the other’s inability to grasp 'axiomatic' theories.
From John Patterson's review in The Guardian for the general release of Best of Enemies, "The Best Of Enemies: political feuding from the golden age of TV":
The intense 1968 TV debates between Gore Vidal and William F Buckley are preserved forever in a film that shows up the moronic TV screamers of today."
How one yearns for a little of their exquisitely distilled poison among the moronic TV screamers of today.
Literary aristocrats and ideological foes, [Gore] Vidal and [William F.] Buckley attracted millions of viewers to what, at the time, was a highly irregular experiment: the spectacle of two brilliant minds slugging it out — once, almost literally — on live television. It was witty, erudite and ultimately vicious, an early intrusion of full-contact punditry into the staid pastures of the evening news.
[The documentary's] directors, Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon, present their ideas with a wide scope....
“They don’t make people like Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley anymore,” Mr. Neville said in a recent interview. “Their lives are the kind of American lives that people don’t have anymore. To me, just on a theatrical level, it seemed operatic: this kind of grand battle.”
Best of Enemies, a film about the 1968 Vidal-Buckley live televised debates. The documentary includes, of course, appearances by Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr., but also John Lithgow, Kelsey Grammer, Dick Cavett, Noam Chomsky, Christopher Hitchens, Matt Tyrnauer, Ginia Bellafante, Sam Tanenhaus, and Brooke Gladstone among others.
Sundance, SXSW official selection, and in cinemas July 31, 2015.
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.