'Best of Enemies' is a documentary about the legendary series of nationally televised debates in 1968 between two great public intellectuals, the liberal Gore Vidal and the conservative William F. Buckley Jr. Intended as commentary on the issues of their day, these vitriolic and explosive encounters came to define the modern era of public discourse in the media, marking the big bang moment of our contemporary media landscape when spectacle trumped content and argument replaced substance. 'Best of Enemies' delves into the entangled biographies of these two great thinkers and luxuriates in the language and the theater of their debates, begging the question, 'What has television done to the way we discuss politics in our democracy today?'
"Confrontation of life styles"... dawn of a new TV era
"Best of Enemies" (2015 release; 88 min.) is a documentary about the infamous 10 televised debates that took place during the 1968 Republican and Democratic Presidential Conventions (in Miami and Chicago, respectively), between conservative William Buckley Jr. and liberal Gore Vidal. As the documentary opens, Vidal is commentating about old pictures hanging up in his house and one of them is showing Buckley and Vidal at one of those debates. We then get some background as to who these 2 guys are, and why ABC veered away to bring the "unconventional Convention" coverage. And then we get to the first debate... To tell you more would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this documentary is co-directed by Morgan "20 Feet From Stardom" Neville and Robert Gordon, who is affiliated with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank. If you think that means the documentary is kinder to Buckley that to Vidal, think again. The two men are pitted against each other, and vehemently disdain each other, even before these debates, and much more so afterwards. "It was a confrontation of life styles", as someone comments. Yes, it was, but as it turns out, these debates had another unexpected consequence: ABC's ratings went through the roof, and the other mainstream networks quickly realized they had to have their own versions of these "point-counterpoint" programs. In other words, the Buckley-Vidal debates set into motion what would eventually become the Fox's and MSNBC's news channels. Apart from the historical legacy created by these debates, the documentary also examines the long shadows cast be the debates over the personal lives of both Vidal and (even more so) Buckley. If you have any interest in politics and/or in TV history, you will not want to miss this documentary. It makes for completing viewing, period.
"Best of Enemies" made quite a splash at the Sundance film festival earlier this year. The movie's been out for months and I didn't think it would reach theaters here in Cincinnati, but then out of the blue t showed up this weekend at my local art-house theater here. I figured this would not be playing very long and went to see it right away, The matinée screening where I saw this at turned into a private screening, as in: I literally was the only person in the theater. A shame, as this is a riveting documentary. If you get the chance to see this, be it in the theater, on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, do not mist it! "BEst of Enemies" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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