The film makes the case that these television debates up, entertaining and increasingly noisy, were “a harbinger of an unhappy future". That is, the future where we now live.
Best of Enemies is a fascinating film about brilliant people behaving stupidly. It would be reassuring in a way to think that in the distant past, there was a time when American intellectuals could duke it out on the public stage before a mass audience held rapt by the sight and sound of ideas being wrestled into coherent form. We know such things don’t happen anymore. How many Americans can even name two intellectuals to have such a debate?
Screening on 5 October at the DocYard and followed by a Q&A with co-director Robert Gordon, the film shows that the debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley were great television. It also reminds us that the participants were outsiders to some degree, but had found their way into the ruling class, where their affected mannerisms and drawling mid-Atlantic elocutions (those long looping sentences have all the confident laze of men who feel they must never rush for anyone) were all part of their theatrical self-invention. But their titanic intellectualism too often devolved in name-calling and ad hominem attacks. The chattering class on TV follows their lead today. Only nobody now can comfortably quote Pericles.
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