SXSW Film Review: Best of Enemies

Hugely fun doc about Buckley and Vidal's infamous debates

Hard to imagine that time, pre-Fox News and Bill O’Reilly, when facts mattered, on-camera civility reigned, and Dan Ackroyd’s Jane-you-miserable-slut comment was so funny just because it was so unimaginably outré.

As Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville's documentary, Best of Enemies, would have it, it was in 1968 that restrained political discourse may have taken its first irreversible step down the ad hominem path, when, in an attempt to boost its tanking ratings, ABC News seated longtime enemies Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. together in front of the camera for a series of 10 debates during the two Presidential conventions.

With each encounter the level of already-simmering hostility rose between the two well-spoken, patrician-accented public intellectuals until a flash point when the arch, “gay” author of Myra Breckinridge called the arch conservative founder of National Review and the host of PBS’ Firing Line a “crypto Nazi” and then Buckley called Vidal a “queer” and threatened to punch him in the face. All on network TV. There was journalism and there were lawsuits and well, you know, nothing has ever been the same. Terrific archival clips of the debates, spot-on talking head commentaries from familiar well-loved, far cooler urbane heads from Jack Paar and Dick Cavett to Christopher Hitchens. What a fun ride!

Best of Enemies

Festival Favorites
Saturday, March 21, Topfer, 4pm

Keep up with all our SXSW Film coverage at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

Q&A With Comedian Tig Notaro
Q&A With Tig Notaro
Showtime documentary airs Friday

Andy Campbell, April 15, 2015

SXSW Film 2015 Rundown
SXSW Film Coverage
Reviews, interviews, photo galleries, and more

March 22, 2015

More by Anne S. Lewis
An Old Crime Bubbles to the Surface in <i>Descendant</i>
An Old Crime Bubbles to the Surface in Descendant
Margaret Brown observes a drowned history

March 11, 2022

The Only Constant on Congress Is Change
The Only Constant on Congress Is Change
Liz Lambert chronicles being both sides of the gentrification debate in Through the Plexi-Glass

March 19, 2021


SXSW Film, SXSW, Best of Enemies, SXSW Film 2015, Gore Vidal, William F. Buckley Sr., Robert Gordon, Morgan Neville

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle