Monday, 11 January 2016


Documentary is as documentary does. I enjoyed Best of Enemies, Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville's archival account of the TV debates between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal during the 1968 party conference season, but I now have cause to resent it. It is a good documentary that may be bad for the genre of documentary. It is mere fact and opinion, old footage and new, an illumination on what some others simply know better than we do, and by those others themselves. It is a professional, respectable, sensible and sensitive piece of work, and technically beyond reproach, but to what end? Best of Enemies is fluffy education, serious entertainment, and a level-headed depiction of a most bitter debate. Gordon and Neville take no sides, and indeed seem keen on ensuring that we do not either, and their measured approach has two opposing outcomes: the film is blessed with directness and clarity, but also stripped of its sense of significance. Drama in Best of Enemies is inferred by the film's content, artificially engendered by post-production, pointed out by its commentary, but never truly engaged in by its filmmakers. One can swiftly conclude what one thinks of what's presented herein, but thoughts subside for Buckley and Vidal and the feelings beneath them arise, feelings that Gordon and Neville show a strange reticence to admit to themselves. If documentary is as documentary does, this documentary does little more than document; it's a safe stereotype, as admirable as it is admonishable.