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"Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia": The Last Great Public Intellectual in the Wild 

Wednesday, Jun 11 2014

Nicholas Wrathall's documentary is both a celebration of a great man and a sad reminder that the era of the American Intellectual is probably behind us, certainly of intellectuals as consistently thoughtful and entertaining as Gore Vidal. He passed away in 2012, and the picture features the final on-camera interviews with the singular American writer, essayist, Kennedy insider, and relentless gadfly. It's a good primer for those unfamiliar with the man, but it's no less intriguing for those who are already admirers, particularly for his refusal to be closeted at a time when being out was not remotely okay. Included is the legendary exchange from a 1968 debate with arch-conservative William F. Buckley in which Vidal calls Buckley a "pro-crypto-Nazi," and a flustered Buckley responds by calling him a queer and threatening to punch him; Vidal's sly smile after Buckley's outburst speaks volumes. Granted, neither a single smile nor an 89-minute documentary can say everything there is to say about someone's life, let alone someone as complex as Gore Vidal — the current wave of anti-circumcision activists will probably get snippy that his feelings about the sanctity of the foreskin didn't make the cut — but Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia is a good start.

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Sherilyn Connelly


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