The Gore Vidal and William F Buckley Jr feud is the stuff of legend. And in The Best Of Enemies by directors Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville, we are treated to a yummily forensic replay of a rivalry that exploded on the small screen in the pressure cooker atmosphere of 1968, when the two were hired by ABC as commentators on the Republican and Democratic conventions. Like Senna – the story of the Icarus-like Formula One racer – the consummate and exquisite use of archive doesn’t just tell us the story of what happened alchemically transforms it into a fairy tale come to life.
In a way Buckley and Vidal were canaries in the coal mine, trilling warnings about the toxic gases that are a by-product of the American Dream. One was conservative and the other liberal, but watching this film you feel they were both absolutely right. Not that anyone was listening, then or now. Because their heated debates – climaxing when Vidal called Buckley a crypto nazi and Buckley retorted calling Vidal a faggot (live! on television! in 1968!) – proved such great ratings fodder that we haven’t been able to come up with any better ideas since. And so we carry on calling each other names as society continues to go to hell in a hand basket, which is just the way we like it!