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Best of Enemies 

Wednesday, Aug 5 2015
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Something happened to TV news during the election season of 1968, and it was beautiful, terrible, and irrevocable. To claw out of a desperate ratings slump, ABC convened Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr., respectively the nation's highest-ranking heretical left-wing dandy and its living edifice of arch-conservatism, to debate the issues of the day (which, in 1968, were deep and distressing). The result, as Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon's engrossing documentary suggests, was a resounding drop of poison in the well of televised American political discourse. If today it seems like all pundits all the time, shouting over each other only to be heard not saying much, that's thanks in part to the grand and gripping feud that was Buckley vs. Vidal. Of course it must be said that pre-TV American political discourse had no shortage of impoliteness, but what's so striking about this particular tête-à-tête is the sheer eloquence of mutual contempt. Both men were truly and personally concerned about the state of American social affairs, and although diametrically opposed, both were patrician snobs. From a modern vantage point, the level of their conversation is astonishingly high — at least until it degenerated. But then, that degeneration has its share of fascinations too. The filmmakers work hard to give context and credit where it's due. They don't take sides but do take the high road, with a tone of rueful retrospect.)

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Jonathan Kiefer

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SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.

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