Forget Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and the hysterics of the millennial news machine: The most riveting hurly-burly to hit the political stage went down over 40 years ago when bitter rivals William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal shook up the airwaves in a series of televised debates, sending NBC’s ratings skyrocketing in the process.
Their epic showdown is chronicled in Best of Enemies, a new doc from Robert Gordon and 20 Feet From Stardom’s Morgan Neville that details how the brutal face-off between the O.G. neocon and the lefty polemicist played out in the summer of ’68.
A breakout premiere at Sundance, Best of Enemies blends archival clips of the two late intellectuals with analysis of their ten groundbreaking debates that ushered in a new era of divisive political punditry.
Perfectly matched nemeses with no love to spare, the duo were a match made in hell whose heated exchanges over policy often devolved into nasty personal attacks, like when Vidal famously dubbed Buckley a “crypto-Nazi” and got called a “queer” in return.
The public ate up every delicious barb.
In a Daily Beast exclusive clip, Best of Enemies peers into the pre-battle machinations of the onscreen gladiators through their own respective recollections, with Kelsey Grammer voicing Buckley and John Lithgow as Vidal—and highlights how their landmark blood sport foretold the ideological divide splitting the country today: