Posted by on Aug 25, 2015 in History, Media, Politics, Review, Site, Spectacle, STL, US | 4 comments

— At Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac —
General Showtimes: 11:05 am | 1:15 | 4:15 | 7:20 | 9:45 pm

Gore Vidal and Willaim F. Buckley Jr. – Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

My review:

Thinking is not to agree or disagree. That’s voting. — Robert Frost
It may be odd to like what disturbs us but it is clear that Best of Enemies is meant to provoke, and in that sense it is most successfully engaging.
In 1968, while trailing NBC and CBS – to debate the Democratic and Republican national conventions – ABC hired two commentators, the conservative William F. Buckley Jr. and the liberal Gore Vidal Vidal; the strategy worked and the ratings jumped way up!
Almost every night the sparks were flying all over, not by the fireplace but on the small screen: two of the most articulate public intellectuals – in the days when such individuals still existed – were brilliantly sparring around the politics of those conventions.
And then everything blew up.
It had gone too far: what had started as entertaining theater became a bloody spectacle. Watching was no longer innocent; television had changed, the two talented debaters had gone beyond the limits of decency. And nobody ever recovered.
Bound to stay with you, with the electoral season about to start, this is a wickedly timely re-visiting of these debates.
Includes interviews with Dick Cavett, Christopher Hitchens, and Todd Gitlin.
From the film:
Argument is sugar and the rest of us are flies. — Richard Wald. Former ABC News senior Vice President
I think these great debates are absolutely nonsense The way that they’re set it up there’s almost no interchange of ideas, very little even of personality, there’s also a terrible thing about this medium that hardly anyone listens. They sort of get an impression of somebody and they think they figured out what he’s like just by seeing them on television   — Gore Vidal
Thus television in America there is an implicit conflict of interest between that which is highly viewable and that which is highly illuminating. — William F. Buckley Jr.
You’re doing theater when you should be doing debate. — Jon Stewart


“Featurette” with the filmmakers…

The Film’s Website
1. The two Esquire magazine rebuttals
2. To see how little has changed
  • James Baldwin Debates William F. Buckley Jr. at Cambridge U. (1965)
  • Chomsky vs. Buckley 1969 Complete Debate on Buckley’s PBS TV show “Firing Line”