The 1968 US Presidential contest is famous for many reasons, and one of the longer-lasting if lesser mentioned impacts was the way it changed TV coverage of American politics. For it was during the 1968 party conventions that ABC pioneered a new, more raucous and more opinionated form of coverage by putting on live head-to-head debates between two of the country’s most high profile – and most divergent – political pundits: Gore Vidal (liberal) and William F Buckley Jr. (conservative).
The documentary film Best of Enemies retells the run-up to the debates, the course of the debates and the life-long fall out from them. Ironically, the best moments of the film are not the actual debate footage. That’s because the style of political confrontation on the media has got so much harsher since that even the moment when Buckley threatened to punch Vidal sounds to modern ears rather genteel, with the elegant tone and laidback body language that went with the flash of anger.
In its own way, that powerfully makes the point about how much TV coverage of politics has changed since. It does also leave a slightly odd hole at the heart of what is a fascinating film, thanks to the way the debates themselves have so aged.
But the surrounding material, including copious interviews and other contemporary footage, is so good that this is really a curio rather than a flaw in what is a fascinating movie.
Here is the trailer:
If you like this, you might also be interested in The War Room.
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