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Smart, fascinating, and funny, Best of Enemies takes a penetrating -- and wildly entertaining -- look back at the dawn of pundit politics.
All Critics (116)
| Top Critics (36)
| Fresh (109)
| Rotten (7)
| DVD (1)
This doc about the 10-night series, directed by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville (who won an Oscar last year for Twenty Feet From Stardom), provides an entertaining and, ultimately, depressing peek into TV at a pivotal moment.
A smart, engrossing documentary about a political and media moment in the United States in the 1960s; a moment whose resonance is topical and whose reverberations have been enduring.
What followed [in the debates] was not so much a clash of well-articulated ideas as a clash of highly articulate persons who regarded ideas as ammunition.
Did anyone win? Most say Vidal, since Buckley descended to physical threats. But really, has anyone won in any of this endless bickering?
There is something about the siren call of the TV camera that can turn even big thinkers into brawlers. It was true then and it's true now, and "Best of Enemies" serves as a thoroughly enjoyable reminder.
For better or for worse, we'll never again see television quite like that documented in the compelling "Best of Enemies" ...
[Director Morgan] Neville and [Robert] Gordon have managed to make politics funny and interesting for the audience at large.
Let's thank the media gods this clash of the titans for the ages is being retold by two born entertainers. They have turned first-rate media-driven theater into a great time at the movies. It is, in a word, deeeee-licious.
An innocent young person might believe that, not so long ago, America was a latter-day Athens in which political arguments were magnificent in their purity and eloquence... For a useful antidote to this idea, I recommend Best of Enemies.
It's an entertaining documentary, as well as a very sobering one.
I am sorry to see Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon's Best of Enemies being hailed for remembering a golden age when intellectuals fought out profound issues in public.
Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon's documentary gives us a fascinating glimpse into these famous debates and their historical context.
I've previously seen and enjoyed the documentary Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, which spends some time talking about this big rivalry and televised political debate. Here is a documentary released two years later that dives more deeply into that debate and give a little biography about both Buckley and Vidal. As the tagline on the poster says, "Buckley vs. Vidal. 2 men. 10 debates. Television would never be the same." The filmmakers suggest that this directly led to the televised coverage of American elections today and the level of commentary that often falls into personal attacks rather than focus on the issues/policy/truth.
An exciting analysis of the beginning of a major change in political journalism as it became a theater stage for egos, shown in this pivotal debate between two arrogant men who we can't deny were brilliant orators - even though I despise Buckley's political views and Vidal's aggressive ad hominem attacks.
With no televised debates between the presidential candidates in 1968, it was left to ABC who was desperately seeking an audience or any kind of attention really to make up for that by having Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley debate opposing viewpoints in the studio during the two political conventions that year. What the illuminating and snappy documentary "Best of Enemies" does well is provide behind the scenes information. The most surprising snippets involve fresh angles on the Chicago Democratic Convention which had already been so exhaustively covered and here go beyond just mentioning Gore Vidal, Arthur Miller and Paul Newman sharing a car.(I feel there should be a punchline there...)
With a documentary just last year about Gore Vidal, the more revelatory parts in "Best of Enemies" involve William F. Buckley who in archival footage seems polite and eager to listen to different points of view on his television show, and at least until he is pushed too far in the debates with Vidal. At the same time, I do have certain bones to pick, not the least of which is the accusation that Vidal had ulterior motives for saying something unkind about Robert Kennedy. For Buckley, the documentary probably overstates his influence on the Republican Party when in fact he was might have just been in agreement with the more conservative Republicans in power.
Best of Enemies centers on ten televised debates in 1968 between William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal regarding the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach and the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Most of the conversation is heated but diplomatic. The climax is fashioned around what is essentially an infamous altercation of name calling between these two loquacious rivals. The discussion centered on freedom of speech in regards to American protesters displaying a Viet Cong flag. Their polite discourse ultimately condensed to a hostile exchange. Gore Vidal baits Buckley with a personal low blow. Buckley strikes back in kind. Buckley and Vidal, these intellectuals with aristocratic bearing, had been reduced to children. According to the documentary, both had a hard time ever forgetting the incident. It was the seed that inspired an article in Esquire that led to a lengthy lawsuit that took years to settle. Individually, these debates had profoundly affected their lives, but more universally it changed the landscape of political punditry. Given the mostly civilized, highbrow rhetoric seen here and what we are now accustomed to, I'd say things have deteriorated considerably.
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