Director: Nicholas D. Wrathall
Writer: Nicholas D. Wrathall
Cinematography: Joel Schwartzberg
by Tory Maddox
I’ve only read Lincoln by Gore Vidal, and having preceded it by Doris Goodwin’s Team of Rivals I was pretty underwhelmed; which isn’t to say I’m not interested in checking out his other work so much as I was expecting more. Vidal is a smart guy, yes, but he’s also one of the most arrogant and pretentious intellectuals of the last fifty years. He was essentially the Christopher Hitchens of the 60s and 70s, and therefore it’s no surprise that Hitchens and him were close at one point, later having a fall out when Hitchens expressed support for the Iraq War. There’s even an awkward moment in the documentary when, at a party, Hitchens tries to get Vidal’s attention only to be immediately cut off by the assistant. Nevertheless, the cadence and style of the two men is uncanny and it’s incredibly clear where Hitchens took influence from.
Gore Vidal was part of the upper class, said to have had grand political aspirations that quickly crashed with the Kennedy clan’s rise. He was bourgeois through and through, living in an Italian Villa during his later years, having parties with countless celebrities, and maintaining a life long and heartbreaking relationships with his best friend and questionable lover. He was a man who debated William Buckley during the summer of ‘68, back when 45 minutes of debate could be an event on one of the three news channels, allowing the two intellectuals to have an actual exchange of ideas, rather than getting eight pundits to talk over one another for five minutes before cutting to commercial (as I saw on CNN yesterday), though it should be noted that while the film makes it look like Vidal destroys Buckley, watching the full debate shows a much more of even draw between the two, a mistake that Best of Enemies (2015) - an entire documentary on the debate - also makes. See for yourself below.
Being fascinated with David Foster Wallace over the last three weeks and having finished Hunter S. Thompson’s biographical documentary shortly after this one, I can’t help being bummed out by the present lack of an intelligent and challenging popular literary figure. In the latest Newsweek - and taking the cover, surprisingly - there’s an article about the late Wallace, of course concluding with the question about what he’d think of social media’s role in our lives. Similar questions were asked about Thompson, who took a shotgun to his head in 2005. Fortunately, Vidal didn’t commit suicide. His life was long and the last few years were filled with heartbreak. I’m not sure when that author will arrive who could capture the American zeitgeist. I'm confident they're out there somewhere.
BELOW: Watch the entire Buckley-Vidal debate in five parts
Thoughts on films, old and new
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