Best Of Enemies, film review: Hate and debate in a great 1968 political bout

(15) Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon, 88 mins
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

The televised debates between the novelist Gore Vidal (the liberal intellectual corner) and William F Buckley (die-hard conservative) became an unlikely ratings winner for ABC in 1968 and helped to change the way the US networks covered politics. The debates, held at the Republican convention in Florida and at the notorious Democratic convention in Chicago, turned nasty quickly. Vidal and Buckley agreed about nothing. They also loathed each other.

This riveting documentary deliberately invokes heavyweight boxing contests in its account of the discussions. The irony, given their antipathy towards one another, is how similar Vidal and Buckley seemed. They were both part of the American elite: witty and elegant debaters, full of mischief and malice.

The documentary is co-directed by Morgan Neville, an Oscar-winner for Twenty Feet from Stardom. It works on many different levels: as a film about the shifting political landscape of late 1960s America, as a study of the media, and as a focused account of a rivalry between two men who appeared to be equals and opposites, and whose careers ran along similar lines.