Best of Enemies

Recommended

Documentary Films

SIFF Says:

During the summer of 1968, ABC’s struggling news division, dead last in the ratings, made an audacious programming decision that would change the course of network news coverage and public discourse in America: hiring William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal for a series of televised debates to air during the Republican and Democratic national conventions. Buckley was a leading light of the new conservative movement, the founder and editor-in-chief of its ideological masthead, “National Review.” His polar opposite, Gore Vidal, was a leading leftist polemicist and a bestselling novelist, whose recently published novel “Myra Breckinridge” had become a controversial sensation. Neither man much cared for the other’s reputation or politics, but when they finally met before the cameras this distrust became a vitriolic enmity. Live and unscripted, the pair’s bombastic exchanges, which often degenerated into vicious ad hominem attacks, made for compelling viewing, and the ratings skyrocketed. Co-directed by Robert Gordon and Academy Award®-winner Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet From Stardom, SIFF 2013), Best Of Enemies vividly recounts the pair’s debates—a highbrow blood sport that would serve as inspiration for the pundit television of today, influencing such programs as “Crossfire,” “Hardball,” and even “Siskel & Ebert.”

Stranger Says:

: It used to be critics. Then DJs. But nowadays, everybody’s a documentarian. This film looks like it assembled itself out of existing footage—both primary (the debates themselves) and secondary (lots of the talking heads, including back-from-the-dead Christopher Hitchens, RIP, are culled from existing docs)—but it’s unimportant. The film is a fascinating time machine. These two cranks were the last of their kind, patrician public intellectuals from the days when being on TV was déclassé, whose animosity for each other was rivaled only by their profound narce. (SEAN NELSON)
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Film Credits
Director
Morgan Neville, Robert Gordon
Cast
Gore Vidal, William F. Buckley Jr., Howard S. Smith, Kelsey Grammer, John Lithgow
Festivals
SIFF 2015