In 1968, ABC News’ ratings were in the basement. The networks’ executives knew they “needed a media event” and hired two public intellectuals, Gore Vidal, a Democrat and historian, and William F. Buckley Jr., a “new” Conservative, to debate during the Democratic and Republican conventions. The slogan for the coverage was “Unconventional,” which would prove to be an understatement.
Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s riveting new documentary “Best of Enemies” includes the enormously entertaining footage of these two brilliant, supremely articulate men, with patrician accents, going for each other’s political jugular and willfully straying into the personal. The Vidal and Buckley debates–and the ’68 election–revealed the political fault line that still dominates our politics. And spawned TV’s future generations of warring pundits.
Neville (who won the Oscar for best documentary for “Twenty Feet From Stardom”) says, “Ultimately, this is a story about something I care about deeply; how we now ‘talk’ and ‘listen’ to each other through media that is in fact corrosive to our society.”
“Best of Enemies” will open on Friday, July 31 at the IFC Center (Robert Gordon in person at 6:20 pm and 8:25 pm shows and on Saturday, August 1 at 2:15 pm) and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, and in Los Angeles, Vancouver and Toronto. A national rollout will follow.
I photographed William F. Buckley Jr. in his maisonette on the Upper East Side. When I rang his buzzer, he was the one who answered the door. We probably had nothing in common but our true love of dogs, and that afternoon it was plenty.