Best of Enemies (2015)

best of enemies poster buckley vs vidal debates 1968
8.0 Overall Score

An interesting look at something that changed journalism and politics

Needed more background on Buckley and Vidal, not in-depth enough exploration

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Best of Enemies

Studio:  Media Ranch

Genre(s):  Documentary

Release Date(s):  January 23, 2015 (Sundance)/July 31, 2015

MPAA Rating:  R


Is Buckley blowing smoke?

In 1968, ABC is desperate.  With the Republican and Democratic conventions coming, the network makes a move to pair conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. and liberal Gore Vidal in a series of on-air debates.  The debates caught fire and provided something new to the political story in a feud that lasted long past 1968.

Directed by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville, Best of Enemies is a political documentary.  The film utilizes clips and interviews of people who knew the two people and the situation which surrounded the debates.  The documentary was well received and made the short list for the Academy Awards.

The events of the documentary preceded me by many years, but the results of this election were something I was born into.  I can remember both Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley growing up but not really having any idea.  I saw Vidal as primarily a writer and Buckley primarily as a political moderator.  Seeing this documentary shows how TV and politics have changed but also remained the same.


I need to get one of those gold couches

Both men are virtually caricatures.  Vidal plays the overly liberal who is virtually a devil’s advocate but truly believes the inflammatory statements he’s making.  Buckley is the über conservative who appears to be so-upper, upper class that he looks down on the upper class.  Nothing truly gets debated in the debates (from the portions seen in the documentaries) and it virtually is the two men going at each other in thinly veiled political talk which are really personal jabs.  In the sense of content, there is little that has to do with conventions or what should come out of them.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t good viewing.  I can imagine (as a viewer), it would be fun to watch them bait each other and see who won.  Vidal could be argued to be the true winner by almost bringing Buckley to blows by calling him a crypto-Nazi and Buckley retaliating by calling him a queer.  I see both as low blows, and it makes you question if these intellectuals are simply putting on airs to the public and the real Buckley and Vidal slipped out.  Vidal obviously intended to rile Buckley (which worked), but it also seems rather childish on his part for someone with intellectual know-how himself.


Guessing we just saw the real Vidal and Buckley

These debates can still be seen as influential today.  It now feels like this type of political bickering is much more common (though generally between less intelligent people).  I wouldn’t argue that this was the first time it ever occurred, but it was an attention grabber that changed political coverage.

I feel the documentary does a nice job presenting the concept of the debates and some of the background, but it also misses out by not given enough context to either Buckley or Vidal.  The entire thing seems rushed and I didn’t even get a real sense of how much of each “debate” we saw before it was edited down into snippets.  The makers of the documentary probably would have done more justice to the subject by tacking on another hour, but it is worth seeing to familiarize yourself with the history if you are a news or political buff.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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