Best of Enemies details the Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr. ABC News debates during the 1968 Republican and Democratic presidential conventions. At at time when ABC News was a distant third to competitors CBS News and NBC News, they went and created punditry politics to get back into the game and forever changed television and how politics is presented.
To do that, they acquired the services of the intellectual conservative head honcho, Buckley, the equivalent to a Bill O’Reilly, although I would cite the former as much more sophisticated in many ways, and someone far and away ahead of his time and brilliant, and I’m not sure who to compare him to of today, Gore Vidal. The man talked about how normal homosexuality was in 1948…1948!
The premise of this sounds utterly boring, right? How can a documentary about a series of debate that occurred 47 years ago be of any interest? Well, at least as a political junkie and someone that finds intellectual debate stimulating, I thought it was riveting material.
It’s a fascinating meditation on so many things: intellectuals, television as a medium, news, the exchange of ideas, political discourse and so on. And Vidal and Buckley themselves and how much the debates loomed over their respective psyches long after it had finished.
I’m just blown away at how enthralling the historical manifestation of punditry politics was. And funny. I laughed out loud many times.
Many thanks to whoever edited it because they deserve an Oscar. It goes at a witty pace to match its witty stars. There’s never a dull moment.
I particularly thought this review was spot on, “Reminds us how thrilling and provocative an intelligent debate can be.” Exactly. Real intellectual debate IS entertaining. I find it highly stimulating. After I watched this documentary, my mind was on fire.
Also, I love they were able to get Christopher Hitchens, perhaps the best modern day embodiment of those two individuals’ intellectual legacy.
Finally, it’s also a remarkably sad film in the broad sense of its reflection on American culture (the development of punditry politics and how much we don’t listen to our ideological differs) and on an intimate scale re: the two men involved.
Buckley at the end of his life seemed to regret what he had said to Vidal, although he wouldn’t dare say as much. And Vidal was hell-bent on getting the last word against Buckley, literally, before dying.
Of the documentaries I’ve seen thus far in the year, I’d say this ranks as the best. Give it a whirl.