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What is on view here is a contest, apparently, between two who saw each other as villains before it began. We often find ourselves gripped by combat between those that are to some extent well matched, such as boxers or tennis players. Here, perhaps, the key element was fame. ABC saw an advantage to having these two duke it out during the 1968 conventions. It isn't clear there was any room for the notion that alternate takes on the issues were to be expected; rather each assumed moral depravity of the other. One can't help thinking this was not the best of enemies; that their best was expressed in other endeavors.
I was born 20 years after this film's release and my politics are therefore a bi-product of the world these two men helped create. Before the opening credits finished rolling I'd already picked my champion, isolated the villain and noted which interview subjects to boo and hiss at. By the end of the film I was ashamed.
While the primary focus of the film is the Buckley/Vidal debates, the running theme seems to be a lamentation for the bygone days when journalism was about issues, not identities. Before complex scenarios where dumbed down to generic good-vs.-evil stories that actively discourage critical thought. You can see early indicators for even more damning material in the future, including Fox News, Breitbart, and even the Trump Presidency.
There are no winners in this debate. In the end, we all lost.
Our 24 hour news cycles and toe-to-toe punditry didn't come out of nowhere. This documentary was a history lesson for me as I am a little young for the events it covers. But, wow-- does it highlight the beginning points of our current national dialog style, having opened Pandora's boxes and posing questions that we still haven't solved. Those with firsthand memory of the rivalry portrayed in the film, I would be interested in your take!
Quote: // ABC hired two towering public intellectuals . . . \\ ????
You mean Vidal and Buckley??? Holy cow!!! I remember that, when Buckley left his booth to physically attack Vidal. Hardly towering behavior, that? Although I agree with Vidal's assessment of Eisenhower as one cagey, diabolical politician, his gigantic gay crush on his cousin, Jackie Bouvier [Kennedy, Onassis], biased his thinking against both John F. Kennedy's presidency and assassination. Buckley was just a privileged chump!
Speaking about whether television runs America, Buckley says "there is an implicit conflict of interest between that which is highly viewable and that which is highly illuminating." Perhaps the only thing he said with which I could agree. And so true today.
I watched most of the debate between these two enormous egos at the time they were shown. It was very entertaining and thought provoking television. Being small town Canadian raised the debate between two completely opposite points of view was a new experience compared to our very civilized politics. Best of Enemies shows two points of view, and the personal flaws behind them as well as the egos that drove them in a very different light. I enjoyed it very much.
As much fun as this is it’s the very least of both of these cats. Better would be OTHER stuff by either or both. >>>> Youtube et al….. Buckley is actually a tragic figure; a few twisted beliefs early on strangled a ‘philosopher’s mind’. He was a beautiful nullifying mess; mesmerizing. >>> Vidal is a very rare example of a ‘liberal’ who naturally went left and became a radical. Truth sayer!
This is a wonderful film. Do not miss the "special features" section. for additional comment and footage of this film.
I see a wonderful, learned gentleman in William Buckley, jr; and a small-minded, nasty, greedy- money grabbing, phony, hypocritical and vulgar Gore Vidal
A solid documentary about a series of televised debates between William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal that took place against the backdrop of the 1968 Democratic and Republican political conventions. Vidal and Buckley are both fascinating, as is the examination of their public feud and its impact on their lives, but the movie also documents an important chapter in the history of political coverage and debate on television.
The documentary “Best of Enemies” is an engrossing and surprisingly entertaining documentary about the notorious 1968 televised clash between conservative William F. Buckley Jr. and liberal Gore Vidal. Buckley, who was then a high-profile figure thanks to his National Review magazine and “Firing Line” television talk show, was enlisted to speak for the right wing. Vidal, a noted author, playwright and political commentator whose novel “Myra Breckinridge” was at the time a much-publicized and scandalous best-seller spoke for the left.
The late ‘60s was a time when intellectuals such as Vidal and Buckley were widely recognized celebrities and routinely invited as guests on late night talk shows hosted by the likes of Jack Paar and Dick Cavett. It’s a toss-up as to which vintage clip in this documentary is funnier: Buckley trading quips with the cast of “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In,” Vidal hobnobbing with Hugh Hefner on “Playboy After Dark," or Buckley's melt-down at Vidal's accusation.
Buckley, who never misses an opportunity to hiss the title “Myra Breckinridge” like a cobra spitting venom, likens the anti-war protestors of the infamous 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention to bullying fascists. This prompts Vidal to reply that “the only pro- or crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself.” And that is when Buckley loses it. “Now listen, you queer,” Buckley angrily snarls. “Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I’ll sock you in your goddamn face, and you’ll stay plastered.” All of this on live TV. At that point, interviewee Dick Cavett impishly says, “The network nearly shat.”
This documentary is great fun for those old enough to remember live television and the Buckley/Vidal dust-ups and for those interested in seeing how profoundly political discourse has changed since then. Kelsey Grammer serves as the off-camera “voice” of Buckley (who died in 2008), and John Lithgow does the same for Vidal (who died in 2012).
Politics. This is are history. Buckley/Vidal. One of the best documentaries of the year.
A really fun documentary about the Vidal/Buckley debates on ABC in 1968. The special features include extended interview clips with all of those interviewed for the film, including Christopher Hitchens & Sam Tanenhaus and are well worth watching.