Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5
Director: Nicholas Wrathall
Producer: Nicholas Wrathall, Burr Steers, Theodore James
Screenwriter: Nicholas Wrathall
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.
Vidal's rattling wit keeps the film fast and funny, constantly making us gasp at his accurate observations and prescient predictions. It's also entertaining to see him interacting with the most famous, powerful people of the past century(he was related to the Kennedys) and having now-legendary run-ins with the likes of William F. Buckley, Norman Mailer and Ronald Reagan. And by letting Vidal speak for himself, we can see that his view of American history is frighteningly dead-on. This may make the film feel harrowing at times, but he also offers hope that one day the truth will win out. Although it may take a few generations.