Pin It
Favorite

Pundit Pioneers 

Best of Enemies reveals the start of all the shouting in modern political TV coverage

click to enlarge William F. Buckley, Jr. gives Gore Vidal a piece of his mind during a 1968 debate.
  • William F. Buckley, Jr. gives Gore Vidal a piece of his mind during a 1968 debate.

Given the screeching nature of what passes as modern political punditry on television, it might be hard to remember — or even imagine — a time when the airwaves were filled with Serious People talking about Serious Issues facing the country during election season.

Best of Enemies takes us back to the precise moment when campaign coverage turned from straightforward and stiff to entertaining and, arguably, less relevant as it recounts ABC News' dramatic ratings gamble in 1968 to skip gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Democratic and Republican conventions in favor of a new, untested feature — a series of 10 debates between the arch-conservative magazine editor William F. Buckley, Jr. and ultra-liberal author and iconoclast Gore Vidal.

Directors Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon effectively educate viewers on the stakes in 1968, when Richard Nixon took the GOP nomination at a sunny Miami convention, and Hubert Humphrey took the Democratic nomination at a Chicago convention marred by police violence against anti-Vietnam War protestors in the streets.

Buckley and Vidal, though, are the mesmerizing stars here, representing the country's right and left wings with erudite charm and genuine venom aimed at each other's arguments through 10 rounds of quick-witted verbal sparring. These two hated each other so much that they continued fighting in print and in courtrooms for years after the 1968 debates, so dangerous did they find the other's view of where America should be, and so offensive did they find each other's points of view.

Using clips from the debates and interviews with a number of academic and media experts — including Christopher Hitchens, Dick Cavett and Andrew Sullivan — the directors illustrate the remarkable debating skills of both men, as well as their differing styles. Buckley was a towering intellect who felt confident going into the debates with little preparation, while the equally astute Vidal prepared meticulously, including preparing his zingers meant to take advantage of the medium by giving him the most memorable one-liners.

The directors avoid choosing who "won" the debates, although Buckley was pushed to fire a personal insult at Vidal that would get him banned from most TV outlets in 2015. Instead, they do a remarkable job showing how this unusual (for the time) effort to juice ratings worked out great for ABC News, but cost America a future of reasoned, articulate political discourse, replaced by the current shoutfests on Fox, CNN and elsewhere.

The fact that Best of Enemies is so fun to watch makes that depressing takeaway all the more powerful. ♦

Trailer


Best of Enemies
Rated R · 88 minutes · 2015
Official Site: www.bestofenemiesfilm.com
Director: Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon
Producer: Robert Gordon, Morgan Neville, Julie Goldman and Clif Philips

Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for Best of Enemies

Tags: , ,

  • Pin It

Speaking of Film, Review

Latest in Film

  • Print (and Reprint) the Legend
  • Print (and Reprint) the Legend

    Jackie keeps repeating its intriguing ideas about turning people into icons
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • Gangster's Bore
  • Gangster's Bore

    Ben Affleck directs and stars in Live by Night, but forgets to add some excitement
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • Crucial Stuff
  • Crucial Stuff

    Hidden Figures rights wrongs both cinematic and historic
    • Jan 5, 2017
  • More »

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Today | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun
Winter Wonderland Party feat. DJ Patrick

Winter Wonderland Party feat. DJ Patrick @ Impulse

Sat., Jan. 21, 8 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

or

Most Commented On

Top Tags in
Music & Film

Review


Film


Music


Readers also liked…

  • Where Are the Women?
  • Where Are the Women?

    A critic's year-long deep dive into the way movies portray half of humanity
    • May 12, 2016
  • Spy vs. Spy
  • Spy vs. Spy

    The Man from U.N.C.L.E. carves out a unique space in a crowded espionage marketplace
    • Aug 12, 2015

© 2017 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation