The Best of Enemies – Movie Review by Frank L.
Directed by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville
Writers: Robert Gordon, Morgan Neville
Stars: Kelsey Grammer, John Lithgow, Gore Vidal
William F. Buckley jnr and Gore Vidal were two urbane, highly-educated American thinkers and writers, who in debate were articulate and entertaining, who came from the patrician end of American society. But that is where the similarities end. Each saw the United States of America through opposite ends of the telescope. Each had a loathing of the other which was part of their inner being as if it was a constituent part of their respective DNA. There was not anything artificial or contrived in their loathing. It was pure. It was unalloyed. It was remorseless. It was a stroke of genius by ABC news to contract the two of them to appear in a series of debates relating to the Republican convention in Miami in 1968 (Nixon and Reagan) and the Democratic convention in Chicago (McCarthy and Humphreys) which took place in the shadow of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. That one of the debates descended into the use of expressions which were “not polite”, in fact were downright rude, ensured that ABC had backed a winner. That subsequently an article in Esquire magazine by Buckley and a riposte from Vidal should have resulted in bitter litigation adds further piquancy to their poisonous relationship.
Gordon and Neville permit the footage of the debates to speak for itself. It is a joy to listen to two able exponents of the English language speak. Their verbal fisticuffs still delight. It is all set in context and ably assisted by some interviews with bystanders or persons with close understanding of what drove the protagonists. The debates made legendary television for ABC. Gordon and Neville have used the debates, like great artists, as the inspiration to make an enthralling documentary.