Film Reviews

BEST OF ENEMIES (Magnolia)

By • Jul 30th, 2015 •

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BEST OF ENEMIES is a superbly rare, entertaining, intelligent documentary. Not only are all of the talking heads splendidly articulate, but in the detestation and poisonous verbal combat of its two patrician, intellectual opponents, William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal, we can foresee the racial, sexual, Imperial, 2-party political divide of 2015.

Today, of course, the Iran/Iraq debacle substitutes for the trillion-dollar disaster of the Vietnam War; the top 1%’s “greed;” and the inherent racism of the Republican Party’s allegiance to the Southern States’ Last Hurrah of withholding Democratic-led Civil Rights legislation from the Blacks of its Southern tier. That is, the former Democratic stronghold of the South turned Republican under Nixon and Reagan to, implicitly, keep Blacks in their place, post-Segregation.

The found footage of those two elderly, political swimmers, Reagan and Buckley, trading parallel strokes in the ocean, plus the well-chosen clips from Vidal’s scripted in-put to BEN-HUR and his THE BEST MAN put-down of intellect versus “stupidity”- in the mouth of Henry Fonda’s high-minded Secretary of State nominee – eerily forecasts Leftist Liberal Vidal trashing the put-downs of the arch-Conservative Buckley (as impersonated, in THE BEST MAN, by the smarmily villainous Kevin McCarthy).

It is significant that the lowly, third-tier ABC-TV News, in order to enhance its ratings for the 1968 Presidential Conventions, chose two viciously insulting highbrow combatants to pummel one another. While the two majors carried all-day, gavel-to-gavel coverage of the conventions, ABC-TV only aired a summary from 9:30 to 11 pm, including the nightly
Buckley-Vidal contretemps.

Many of us remember the punch line of Bill Buckley, responding to Vidal’s terming him “a crypto-Nazi” by denouncing him as “a queer,” (which, of course, he was) – a first usage on national TV, in the ninth of the duo’s ten debates.

I never realized that these esthetes’ rivalry extended to long, name-calling articles in “Esquire” and a costly, three-year lawsuit, that Esquire terminated with a pay-off to Buckley just before it went to court. The ultra-gay Vidal, (who termed homo sex every bit as normal as hetero) slanderously condemned the married, five-child family man Buckley, in his Esquire retaliation as “a Sodomite.”)

The ghost of the newly-assassinated, Democratic rival candidate, Robert
Kennedy, hovers over the debates as well as BEST OF ENEMIES.

This combat made for historic television theater. But, today, only Fox News continues to disseminate right-wing political slurs to counter its low-rated, liberal rival, MSNBC.
There are no longer any true American intellectuals jousting, even on the Sunday morning talk shows. They would be over the heads of the majority of their viewers, as well as their proprietors.

The skillful co-directors of BEST OF ENEMIES are Morgan Neville, who won a recent, feature documentary Oscar for 20 FEET FROM STARDOM and his longtime collaborator, Robert Gordon.

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