Best of Enemies is a behind-the-scenes account of the explosive televised debates between the liberal Gore Vidal and the conservative William F. Buckley Jr., during the 1968 Democratic and Republican national conventions.
It's crafted more like a movie, but there are no actors (just some voice-overs). The interviews are real, and the people involved -- chiefly Gore Vidal and the superbly witty William F. Buckley -- are taken from their many TV shows.
But for pace and timing, it runs along at a speed that keeps you hooked. Go for a cup of tea and you'll miss something vital. There's no fat in the mix, but neither is it bogged down with detail.
I first saw the film onboard Virgin Atlantic and have bought 10 copies as Christmas presents. Do I like it? Just buy this movie and see for yourself.
This is very much a documentary look at the debates with excellent background information and very good expert opinions. Sadly, film of the debates themselves is minimal and fans will have to look elsewhere. I found the occasional music rather distracting too.
ByprisrobTOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 12 December 2015
William F. Buckley, the Conservative commentator and Gore Vidal, the Liberal writer and commentator bring the best and the worst of both sides in this documentary. I remember as a very young adult watching these debates in 1968 at the Republican Convention in Miami, and the Democratic Convention in Chicago. I sat rapt as these two men discussed their views, threw cryptic insults at one another and almost came to blows. A true harbinger of things to come and of our future.
In 1968, our world was seething with the Vietnam War and the rights of blacks and young people to assimilate. Buckley, was the brilliant conservative and some say the originator of the Conservative movement as it is known today. Vidal was the brilliant leftie, a homosexual, although he never admitted to that word. However, his writings and films all were a cross of the culture of his day. Both men disagreed with the other's point of view. Hate may be too strong a word, but that feeling is felt throughout the documentary.
The television news networks at the time were composed of NBC with Huntley and Brinkley, CBS with Walter Cronkite and ABC a faraway third, struggling to find its place. NBC and CBS had wall to wall coverage of the conventions. ABC was struggling to put in an hour's summary of the day. Someone had the bright idea to hire Buckley and Vidal to comment on the day's activities. Each would take their side and discuss their perspectives. ABC got more than their money's worth. Each night throat to throat discussions with insults and provocative words thrown about. ABC garnered higher ratings than any other network. Brilliant deductions.
Thus documentary gives us but a piece of this time, we see the most controversial of the discussions. But it is well worth your time to sit down and watch. When you finish the documentary, you will realize nothing has changed the insults and theories and philosophy of each side is exactly the same. This was a documentary par excellence. I urge everyone to view this and not come away with a sock to the side of the face.
Deeply absorbing documentary with wealth of detail and testimony. In retrospect the birth of 'culture wars' in the mass media. Buckley and Vidal both fascinating characters in themselves, and slightly absurd too because despite the show-off intellectualism (wearing their brains on their sleeves) what animated them was a visceral dislike of each other. Vidal seemed to win the political arguments but you warm more to Buckley in some respects because of a cockeyed humanity. Vidal is a cold fish.
The most interesting aspect of this documentary is the context in which the "debates" took place: 1968, Vietnam, Tricky Dicky, and the run up to the presidential election , including the Democratic Party Convention in Chicago. As far as debating goes, there is actually very little of what might pass for true debate, and much more juvenile points scoring. Both participants indulge in a great deal of smug self satisfied smirking when each thinks they have scored a point against their opponent. Both clearly relish the limelight and enjoy performing for the audience and cameras. However, after watching for more than an hour, we are only given a few selected snippets of the actual debate itself totalling only a few minutes. The rest of the film concentrates on others' opinions on the participants and the background to the debates. Watching the two men I was struck by the similarities in their mannerisms and bitchy bickering style, as well as their obvious pleasure at being able to deliver what they think is a telling bon mot. Both embody a rather telling image of patrician entitlement, emitted in gaseous expulsions of rarified transatlantic verbosity. Entertaining and of its time.
The 1968 US Presidential contest is famous for many reasons, and one of the longer-lasting if lesser mentioned impacts was the way it changed TV coverage of American politics. For it was during the 1968 party conventions that ABC pioneered a new, more raucous and more opinionated form of coverage by putting on live head-to-head debates between two of the country's most high profile - and most divergent - political pundits: Gore Vidal (liberal) and William F Buckley Jr. (conservative).
The documentary film Best of Enemies retells the run-up to the debates, the course of the debates and the life-long fall out from them. Ironically, the best moments of the film are not the actual debate footage. That's because the style of political confrontation on the media has got so much harsher since that even the moment when Buckley threatened to punch Vidal sounds to modern ears rather genteel, with the elegant tone and laidback body language that went with the flash of anger.
In its own way, that powerfully makes the point about how much TV coverage of politics has changed since. It does also leave a slightly odd hole at the heart of what is a fascinating film, thanks to the way the debates themselves have so aged.
But the surrounding material, including copious interviews and other contemporary footage, is so good that this is really a curio rather than a flaw in what is a fascinating movie.