Best of Enemies

"An often spell-binding account of the culture-changing television debates that took place in 1968 between conservative William F Buckley Jr and liberal Gore Vidal...Compulsive viewing." - 3AW

“Television used to value public intellectuals a lot more than it does today. TV’s idea of a celebrity included Broadway impresarios, publishing magnates, newspaper columnists, and any man or woman who could quip knowledgeably about current events. It was in this environment that William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal became household names. Two patrician New Yorkers with strong political convictions and dryly combative personalities.

“Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s alternately entertaining and unsettling documentary Best Of Enemies looks at both of these men’s lives through the prism of a moment when their paths infamously crossed. In 1968, ABC News compensated for its inability to provide gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Republican and Democratic conventions by offering a series of spirited debates between Buckley and Vidal. Neither man respected the other. Buckley considered Vidal a degenerate panderer, while Vidal thought Buckley was making callous neo-fascism palatable to a mass audience. In other words: They had a lot to talk about.

“What makes this film so vital is that Gordon and Neville themselves have a distinct opinion about the moment’s significance—both to Buckley and Vidal and to the future direction of political commentary on television. The end result? The evolution of political discourse into a team sport, where cable news in particular encourages liberals and conservatives to spend more time tearing down their opponents than seeking compromise.

“In the years they spent piecing this film together, Gordon and Neville got some strong voices on the record, including the late Christopher Hitchens, the now-semi-retired Andrew Sullivan, and the inevitable Dick Cavett. Once again, it’s telling just how much material there is to draw from, because Buckley and Vidal happened to be around at a time when TV liked guys who were willing to show off their smarts.

“It’s also notable how little has changed in the what political commentators argue about. Buckley and Vidal were batting around the still-burning topics of sexual morality, income inequality, and how “law and order” could be a code word for institutional racism. More importantly, both men were passionate and articulate about these subjects, unlike so many people on TV today, who seem to be playing a role for ratings.” - The AV Club


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