Necessity is a mother of an inventor. Because they could not afford gavel-to-gavel coverage of the 1968 Republican and Democratic conventions, the bright boys at ABC News opted for a different sort of spectacle: nightly debates between conservative gadfly William F. Buckley, Jr. (National Review) and liberal author Gore Vidal (Myra Breckenridge, et alia) What followed was not so much a clash of well-articulated ideas as a clash of highly articulate persons who regarded ideas as ammunition. (Ditto insults.) Each saw in the other the embodiment of all that was wrong and dangerous in American culture, and was only too happy to make the point in public. If Vidal started the fight, Buckley was quick to accept the challenge and even up the ante with one of the most famous threats ever made on live TV. Buckley comes off quicker and smoother, Vidal, cleaner and meaner, but Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s context-rich doc is more interested in similarities than differences. Both men are portrayed as showboating intellectuals who understood the use of television, obsessed over grievances, and polished their legacies — to what avail? It seems safe to say they would both be horrified by the devolvement of TV news into Daily Show gag fodder. (2015) — Matthew Lickona
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