by shael stolberg for FILMbutton
Art is the opposite of Democracy
By the time a man gets to be presidential material, he’s been bought ten times over.
All in all, I would not have missed this century for the world.
Our form of democracy is bribery, on the highest scale.
I never miss a chance to have sex or appear on television
All by Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia is a documentary about a fascinating man and one of the preeminent American writers of the 20th century.
He was born into wealth, society and privilege but his role model was NOT his aviation minded father, who its been said had an affair with Amelia Earhart and was one of the founders of TWA, or his bon vivant actress mother who he publicly said he hated, but his strong – willed blind grandfather Senator Thomas Gore (Vidal took his last name as his first name) who was on FDR’S staff and died, according to Vidal, “The only poor senator from Oklahoma” because he was an honest man and did not take money from the Oil companies.
Director Nicholas D. Wrathall uses many of Vidal’s witicisims in the film as well as celebrity stories, archive footage, interviews and discussions with Vidal himself. The film covers all of Vidal’s life from very early on until a year or two before his death. Many of the interviews and “talking heads” in the film express their deep admiration for Vidal as a writer and a man who everyone wanted to be around. A funny anecdote is told by Tim Robbins (with accompanying photo in the film) that occurred on one of his family’s visits to Vidal’s home in Italy. Vidal notifies Robbins and his family they will be having a few guests for dinner the following night…Bruce Springsteen, Sting and their wives!
To think that such a prolific writer (26 essays and nonfiction books, 8 plays, 15 screenplays, 31 novels, 14 screenplays) was probably best known for his many TV appearances, witicisims and debates with the ultra ring wing William F. Buckley.
Vidal wrote with intention. An example of this can be seen in a film clip that Wrathall uses in the documentary for the film adaptation of Vidal’s play The Best Man. In this particular scene the previous two-term US president is explaining how you have to be prepared to do anything to get the presidency no matter what the cost and ‘the best man’ may not always be the best for the job.
Whatever Wrathall’s intention in making the film (it turns out he is a friend of the filmmaker Burr Steers, Vidal’s nephew who is in the film) he does a good job of showing Vidal’s career and the mark he had during his long life. Vidal did not get to see a cut of the film before his death but, according to Wrathall, he did view some of the rushes and/or dailies.
One element of the film that some may say is missing is that Wrathall’s stayed away from any salacious stories or gossip about Vidal’s personal life of which I am sure their were many. Remembering this was the man who was probably blackballed in the early 50’s for writing a novel about homosexuality and stated proudly I never miss a chance to have sex or appear on television.
It seems Wrathall is in the process of working on a distribution deal so the film can get a wider release. It is worth seeing.
I told you so.
Shael Stolberg has previously written 3 books, moderated panels at film festivals, gave seminars at film schools, hosted a film based radio show, is a principal in Panorama Film Events and ,for full disclosure, presently runs FILMbutton.com.