The Coolidge Corner Theatre is playing Best of Enemies, a documentary about the 1968 debates between William F. Buckley, Jr and Gore Vidal, and the influence these debates had in shaping modern punditry as mass entertainment spoon-fed to the masses through television.
While the documentary suffers from some stylistic drawbacks, it still proved a fun time at the movies.
The first half of the film is a whirlwind of vintage garish network TV adverts (from NBC, CBS, and ABC) patched together with color footage of Vidal and Buckley. These damaged clips are strung together with contemporary footage of various commentators set to the frantic tune of countless ragged pieces of classical music. The overall effect is hallucinogenic and operatic. I get that they are trying to set a mood here, but there’s no need to doubt the intelligence of your audience by making your subject matter appear more epic in scope and consequence than it already is.
The film finds its stride when it plays uninterrupted clips of the various debates between these political foes, held before the Republican and Democratic conventions of 1968. The patrician Buckley and Vidal spew vitriol that ends in an electric verbal bloodbath, a sight still exciting to witness today. The filmmakers go out of their way to point out that, sadly, the fun, nay, glee we are experiencing is a result and ongoing symptom of the mass intoxication produced by watching presumably intelligent people insult each other on TV.
The film will be playing locally for another two days; catch it, if you have the chance.