Best of Enemies

July 31st, 2015


Best of Enemies

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A documentary on the series of televised debates in 1968 between the liberal Gore Vidal and the conservative William F. Buckley Jr.

Release Year: 2015

Rating: 7.7/10 (117 voted)

Critic's Score: 84/100

Director: Robert Gordon

Stars: Gore Vidal, William F. Buckley, Dick Cavett

'Best of Enemies' is a documentary about the legendary series of nationally televised debates in 1968 between two great public intellectuals, the liberal Gore Vidal and the conservative William F. Buckley Jr. Intended as commentary on the issues of their day, these vitriolic and explosive encounters came to define the modern era of public discourse in the media, marking the big bang moment of our contemporary media landscape when spectacle trumped content and argument replaced substance. Best of Enemies delves into the entangled biographies of these two great thinkers and luxuriates in the language and the theater of their debates, begging the question, 'What has television done to the way we discuss politics in our democracy today?'

Writers: Robert Gordon, Morgan Neville

Kelsey Grammer - Himself
John Lithgow - Himself
Gore Vidal - Himself
Dick Cavett - Himself
Noam Chomsky - Himself
Christopher Hitchens - Himself
William F. Buckley - Himself (archive footage)
Matt Tyrnauer - Himself
Ginia Bellafante - Herself
Brooke Gladstone - Herself
Sam Tanenhaus - Himself

Taglines: Buckley vs. Vidal. 2 Men. 10 Debates. Television Would Never Be The Same.


Official Website: Tremolo Productions [United States]

Country: USA

Language: English

Release Date: 31 July 2015

Box Office Details

Budget: $1,000,000 (estimated)

Technical Specs


User Review


Rating: 7/10

For anyone interested in how we arrived at todays angry confrontations and four way screaming matches on news programs - this documentary might be for you.

"Best of Enemies" covers the ten televised debates from 1968 between conservative William F Buckley Jr and liberal Gore Vidal. The debates,for all the wrong reasons, helped inspire TV networks to move towards the format of screamfests we now know. The focus being the act of conflict of opposing opinions, rather than substance. Today you can almost hear the producers scream at debating participants "energy people.. energy! And Go! "

The film homes in on the verbal confrontations of Buckley and Vidal. The arrogance and intellectual wit of both men combined with their serious character assassination attempts of each other is a spectacle. It is however, also the very distraction from the subjects they discuss and you can almost hear the future echos of a Jerry!.. Jerry!.. in the wings (be it a highbrow jerry springer chant). This is emphasized by the fact the debates are not shown in their entirety but instead edited to fit the documentary. Instead commentators in each corner of Buckley and Vidal provide the social and political context around the subjects. The film hereby focuses mainly on the confrontational segments. A deliberate choice of the documentarians, but it comes at the expense of the viewer missing the very important piece to understanding why Buckley and Vidal were the debating heavyweights of their time - detailed positioning of argument!

The accompanying storyline is the struggle of ABC news and their bid for ratings. It does detract from the debates but provides more media history context.

The film can be seen as an introduction to Vidal and Buckley but will not provide a thorough insight to either of these two political warriors. Mainly The documentary shines a light on the subject of TV debate and where the erosion of TV journalism might have started.

With the recent loss of Christopher Hitchens and an ageing Noam Chomsky,it seems that the times of fearless intellectual exchanges between debating parties is over. Gutsy political commentary, social criticism and satirical wit appear to no longer be coming from intellectuals but comedians. Once Bill Hicks and George Carlin. Now Bill Maher and Jon Stewart. But even they cant live forever. Who will replace…

Gore Vidal was asked as one of the last living legends of the literary scene why no one seemed to be taking on the mantle of work and standard of writing of him and his peers. Vidal replied "Because no one took on the mantle of reader". Maybe we also didn't take on the mantle of viewer.


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