When an influential and forward-thinking writer locks horns with a conservative author, things get a little intense. Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr. made headlines when they were enlisted to debate the Republican and Democratic presidential ideals in 1968 for ABC, and subsequently found themselves in a controversial feud as they became more and more incensed by each other's opinions. With threats of violence and insulting jargon leaving a shocking mark on the legendary televised argument, it became a landmark moment in political media and, indeed, continued - albeit indirectly - with later publications and lawsuits from both parties. While there used to be an element of poise and dignity with political conversation, from this moment, things heated up considerably when it came to fighting about the government.
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Not only is this documentary a superbly well-assembled biography of the notorious author-commentator, but it's also a bracingly clear-eyed look at the America most people don't want to admit exists. The late Gore Vidal was a thorn in society, using his snappy intelligence to speak the truth even if it left him persona non grata. But when asked about his legacy, he famously replied, "I couldn't care less."
This echoes in his main message that America is resolutely ignoring its own history. "We miraculously forget everything," he said. "The lessons we should be learning we will have forgotten in no time at all." But history was his passion, as he wrote novels, plays, films and essays about the USA's evolution from a republic to an empire. No one wanted to hear this, even as he astutely noted how the nation essentially turned into a military monolith after WWII, and then became even more driven after 9/11, waging war without provocation or respect for any other country while using the Patriot Act to remove fundamental rights of habeas corpus and due process at home.
Filmmaker Wrathall packs the film with interview footage, allowing Vidal to narrate his own story and deliver his own lacerating comments (there's also narration from his literary executor Parini). And the screen is littered with Vidal's pithy, eerily astute remarks about politics ("Our form of democracy is bribery on the highest scale") and life in general ("Love is a fan club with only two fans"). This is all set within the framework of Vidal's life story. Descended from a long line of authors, politicians and innovators, he was raised to be a deep, free thinker. So it's no wonder that he took on society's "basic values", which he knew were false notions of what is natural.
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Dick Cavett and Martha Rogers - The New York Premiere of the HBO documentary Six By Sondheim, held at the Museum of Modern Art - Arrivals. - New York, New York, United States - Tuesday 19th November 2013