Ben Oliver

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Best of Enemies

Argument is the sugar, and we are the flies.
04 November 2015

A look into ten televised debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Sounds like a dry subject matter, but Best of Enemies is at its core the tale of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. Who doesn’t want to watch that? Gore Vidal, a staunch liberal butts heads with Buckley, his republican, gay-hating state-loathing nemesis.

Intellectually they are essentially equals; both are very well spoken, both are great debaters and both have strongly held opinions. They are also both convinced that the other is dangerous to society and must be stopped.

There’s genuine hatred at play here which is a rare sight. Generally such rivalries fizzle out over the years, even to the point where a reluctant friendship evolves. Not here. Upon hearing of Buckley’s death, Vidal said:

RIP WFB - in Hell. I thought hell is bound to be a livelier place, as he joins, forever, those whom he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatred.

That’s what Gordon & Neville capture in Best of Enemies - a short moment in time that sparked a lifetime of hatred.

Interestingly this is also the genesis of the modern TV debate, and the pundit format. It marks the first realisation that people love confrontation more than they love actual news. Today Vidal and Buckley would be shunned for being elitist and intellectual, but these interviews definitely sewed the seed for what we see today on television.

At some points Kelsey Grammer and John Lithgow provide some voice overs, reading from the gents’ memoirs. It’s a nice touch most of the time but it can be a little distracting.

Best of Enemies doesn’t break any new ground in the world of documentary films. However, it’s a very competently put together piece that shines some light on a moment in time I was not that well aware of.

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