Staff Picks: Best of Enemies

Reviewed by Craig C., Senior Materials Handler

Best of Enemies is available on DVD and streamable on Hoopla and Kanopy.

Civil DiscourseOne of the Library’s core values is the promotion of civil discourse. The 2015 documentary Best of Enemies provides an interesting counterexample for this since it covers the historic debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr. that aired on ABC News during its coverage of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in 1968. More than just a conflict between public intellectuals with diametrically opposed ideologies, it was a harbinger of the stark divisions we’re seeing along racial, socioeconomic, and political lines today. What’s especially bracing about it is that while Buckley and Vidal start out relatively calm and measured, they quickly deviate from the issues at hand and begin attacking each other personally, more interested in scoring points than listening to what the other has to say. This reaches its climax with the indelible moment in their penultimate debate where Vidal calls Buckley a “crypto-fascist” and Buckley responds by calling Vidal a “queer” and threatening to punch him in the face. So much for civility.

Note: Best of Enemies is age-restricted on Kanopy because it includes clips from the X-rated Myra Breckenridge and Caligula, both of which were based on works by Vidal. The film itself is rated R.

This is review is part of the Finding Value series, inspired by the eleven core values central to the Library's mission. Tune in as Library staff review books and movies that highlight the values accessibility, civil discourse, inclusiveness, integrity, intellectual freedom, lifelong learning, literacy, respect, safety, service, and stewardship. 

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