During the 1968 Republican and Democratic National Conventions the network devised a new style of broadcast and invited two outspoken and well educated minds from polar opposite sides of the political spectrum to verbally stoush on live television. Those two men were: In the right corner, conservative author William F Buckley, and in the left corner the controversial author Gore Vidal. What would unfold was a series of ten national debates that would capture the attention of the nation and open up a whole new platform for conversation.
BEST OF ENEMIES is a documentary film that chronicles these debates and features reflections and opinions from various political commentators. It wisely takes a non-partisan approach with zero bias and, instead, directors Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville present the story with an entertaining structure that resembles that of a wrestling match. In between each debate (round) the narrative switches to commentaries on the performance and outcome of the exchange and fragments of character back-story help to paint a greater picture of who these two men were.
The film gives Buckley and Vidal the same amount of attention, with each receiving an equal measure of criticism and respect. Both men were charismatic and highly intelligent, and proved to be formidable sparring partners. Of course there was a mutual hatred between them, and the film examines the moment when the frivolous nature of the debates turned and became very dark. In a moment of heated discussion one provokes the other with a flippant and offensive insult and the other responds with an equally offensive and derogatory retort. It was a moment that both men would carry for the rest of their lives. One man plagued by his words with regret and the other taking his hatred to the grave.
BEST OF ENEMIES is a compelling film that highlights the correlation between the political atmosphere of the 60s and the current state of affairs in modern America. Very little has changed and while the film has no intensions of pushing a left or right agenda, it does ask us to reflect on what progress we've made and whether we've progressed as much as we should have within the span of four decades. It also documents one of the great intellectual rivalries of a generation, and it's captivating.