Best of Enemies ★★★★

The sound of such erudite voices on national TV is soothing if a bit depressing, since the possibility of its ever happening again is as dead as Cronkite. Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. locked horns in 1968 for ten televised debates, which climaxed when Vidal needled Buckley by calling him a crypto-Nazi and Buckley countered by calling Vidal a queer and threatening to "sock [him] in the goddamn face." These ripostes revealed the worst of both men, Vidal lapsing too easily into Godwin's Law and Buckley reaching too briskly for ad hominem and violence. As has been correctly pointed out, each man was too busy trying to get over on the other to address the actual issues supposedly under consideration. The documentary makes clever use of a lot of backstage footage, and the cool cucumber Vidal is always witty company, the hot-blooded, vulpine Buckley less so. These days, both men read as smug, moneyed white males flicking switchblades at each other, and sadly, though Buckley's legacy persists through his magazine and the remnants of the Reaganism he endorsed, it's hard to identify what Vidal has left behind other than volumes of excellent writing. Notably, relatives and former assistants and biographers speak on WFB's behalf, but clever fans like James Wolcott and the late Christopher Hitchens root for Vidal. The gimmick of having Kelsey Grammer and John Lithgow narrate the writings of WFB and Vidal respectively fails because even they can't compete with those incomparable voices.