This wasn’t the kind of documentary I was expecting, but those of you who are interested in politics will probably enjoy it.
CBS and NBC were the top two TV stations in 1968, and, for the first time ever, they decided to have gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. ABC, however, being a distant third and with a much lower budget, could only have 90 minutes per night of coverage. To try boost their ratings for the events, they recruited the leading conservative spokesman (William F. Buckley, Jr. – Editor of the “National Review” ) and one of the most prominent liberals (Gore Vidal – famous author and homosexual) for a series of 10 debates, one for each night of each convention. They hated each others’ guts! Each one thought that the country would become a mess if their opponent’s agendas were followed. (It now appears that they both were right!)
I was expecting the film to have edited the 10 debates to show a coherent version of the conservative agenda (law and order, family values, any sexuality but heterosexuality is a perversion, small government with limited entitlements, pro-Vietnam war, etc.) vs. the progressive agenda (big government with expanding entitlements, anti-Vietnam War with support for protesters, “whatever gets you through the night” sexual freedom, etc.), being espoused by two brilliant intellectuals. Instead, the movie, written and directed by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville, primarily is about their privileged backgrounds, what made each man tick, and the gestalt of the times. There were numerous clips of some of the debates, but they were brief and primarily demonstrated their mutual animosity. Their antipathy reached a boiling point during the 9th debate when Vidal called Buckley a “crypto-Nazi.” This insult infuriated Buckley to such an extreme that he called Vidal a “queer” and even threatened to punch him the the face! This was a moment of great shame and humiliation for Buckley which troubled him for the rest of his life. Although Nixon beat Humphrey in the 1968 election, running on a law-and-order platform, Vidal is considered by most experts to have won the debates. This movie will work fine as a rental, so I would wait unless you are dying to see it.