by alan gordon for FILMbutton
Best of Enemies promises much: Two great wits and standard bearers for the opposing life/political philosophies of mid-20th century America – Gore Vidal on the Left, William F. Buckley on the Right – were, for various nefarious broadcasting purposes, thrown together on abc news television screens to comment on the Democratic and Republican party conventions of the summer of 1968…Miami and Chicago. This pairing promised some noise, heat, and possibly a little light, and it delivered on this promise in spades. It made for excellent television.
Sadly nothing much else.
Best of Enemies posits a television event, the clash during the 1968 political conventions between Vidal and Buckley to be seen as, what? A microcosm of the polarity of political philosophy in America? The violence that is inherent in American democracy?
What Best of Enemies achieves, sadly is an examination of a microcosm of a microcosm. As far as I could tell, the whole movie was about television, and how it’s controlled by, and is an instrument of, commerce. These two great minds in search of a platform were prepared to sell themselves out to abc news for an opportunity to sling talking points at each other. The shock came when one of these talking heads took a talking point personally. The masks fell and the television world was shocked.
And ratings soared.
The stated mission of Best of Enemies is to look at the Vidal-Buckley debates during the 1968 American political conventions as the moment that changed television forever. Talk about setting a low bar of expectation. As anyone who has been paying attention to American television for many years has noticed, television is changed forever every 39 weeks. It was changed forever with the introductions of colour, of videotape, big screens, of high-definition, of cable, of cord-cutting, of girl comics, of gay comics, of gay girl comics…and the list goes on… Best of Enemies purports to tell us what went into those moments of excellent television. And its makers do a great job.
Masterful editing of available footage mixed with interviews with people who somehow managed to work up interest in the subject matter provide a tightly paced, well-produced film. Best of Enemies builds to the moment when Buckley personally defames Vidal and is shocked/profoundly insulted when Vidal responds in kind. A few seconds of video. Over 90 minutes of movie. Time well spent?
Don’t think so.
You can be the judge when it’s theatrically released on July 31st. (ed- comment)