Best of Enemies Blu-ray Review
If today’s generation recognize the names William F. Buckley, Jr and Gore Vidal, it’s surely due to the influence of pop culture. Mr. Buckley was name-dropped by Woody Allen in ANNIE HALL while family dog Brian Griffin had Mr. Vidal as a guest on his radio show on an episode of “Family Guy.” Five decades ago, they were household words.
BEST OF ENEMIES is the story of how two very different men: Buckley, a right-wing former Mayoral candidate of New York City who started his own conservative magazine and Vidal, a popular novelist. The year is 1968 and, while both CBS and NBC plan to televise both the Republican and Democratic Presidential Conventions “gavel to gavel,” ABC, in a cost cutting move, has decided to only dedicate 90 minutes to each day’s events. To draw viewers, the network has decided to pay Buckley and Vidal $10,000 each to debate the upcoming elections, a trick that works almost too well.
While the televised debates are focused on, the main entertainment in this film comes with the various backgrounds of both men as well as their feelings for each other. As both men are now deceased, their personal quotes and letters are narrated by two great voices: Kelsey Grammer for Buckley and John Lithgow for Vidal. Buckely grew up tough and worked hard for what he had achieved. Vidal was the grandson of a United States Senator whose father had served in the FDR administration. When his parents divorced, his mother re-married Hugh Auchincloss. Upon their divorce, his step-father married Janet Lee Bouvier, mother of Jacqueline, which made Jackie Kennedy his step-sister, once removed!
At the time of the debates Vidal had just released the novel “Myra Breckenridge,” which would even be considered shocking in this time period. Vidal had also written a novel in 1949 that addressed homosexuality as a normal sexual expression. This, of course, led to much speculation about Vidal’s lifestyle, one he would never comment on. As the two man sat across from each other, the politics of the nation are soon forgotten and they spend their allotted time insulting each other. Things get out of hand when Vidal calls Buckley a “pro-Crypto Nazi.” This so infuriates Buckley that he calls Vidal a “queer” and threatens to “sock you in your Goddamn face!” Long after the debates, the two men continued to squabble over this exchange, with both suing each other in court and writing competing essays in “Esquire” magazine.
What the film does point out is that the Buckley/Vidal debates changed television. In later conventions the other networks copied ABC. Gone were the political talking heads. The two men had introduced “confrontational television” to the masses, highlighted here not only with excerpts of Shana Alexander and James Kilpatrick doing their “Point/Counterpoint” on “60 Minutes,” but the very spoofing of the two on “Saturday Night Live,” where-in Dan Aykroyd replies to Jane Curtain’s comment with, “Jane, you ignorant slut!” And while most news shows don’t fall to that level these days, they aren’t pretty far.
Video: Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the presentation here is fine, especially when you consider that a majority of the source material is 50 year old video tape and archival footage.
Audio: The soundtrack is delivered in DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 and presents every word clearly, especially in the voice-overs. Grammer manages to re-create Buckley’s tone and delivery while Lithgow delivers an outstanding performance as he transcribes Vidal.
Additional Interviews (1:05:40): An interesting compilation of interviews with subjects ranging from Dick Cavett to Christopher Hitchens. Worth watching.
Interview with Directors Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon (7:13): The filmmakers talk about their history with the project, how it came about and the various thing each discovered during the process.