Interview: Robert Gordon, co-director Best of Enemies

best_of_enemies_xlgThe political three-ring circus that is election season is in full swing, and what better way to celebrate the ridiculous than to sit down and watch two pundits really go at it! In Best of Enemies, those old enough to remember will think back nostalgically at a time when people could speak intelligently about politics on TV, while those not alive in 1968 will wish they had been. Cinedelphia was fortunate enough to ask co-director Robert Gordon some questions via email about his new film, and what it means for the past, present, and future of politics in the mass media.

Cinedelphia: 1968 was a busy year for politics and changing cultural climates. Was it always your intention with this film to explore the era through the eye of the Buckley/Vidal debates?

Robert Gordon: Yes. These men embodied the conflicts being expressed in the nation at the time, and they always seemed like a way to get a new perspective on 1968. That’s a year that has been very well documented, so we took that as a caution; we worked hard not to rehash material, to deal with tired, familiar ideas. At the same time, from the first viewing of the debates, I felt these were extremely contemporary–that they helped us understand today by discussing the conflicts then.

C: What was the most fascinating aspect you came across while making the film?

RG: We had two lead characters when we began, and before we were done, a third emerged: ABC. The story of the network’s desperate situation, and the ramifications of its idea for “unconventional convention coverage” were all a surprise to us–and made for a more exciting film.

C: The pure dislike these men have for each other is palpable, and makes the debates both entertaining and informative. What makes their heated exchanges different, and in my opinion, better than the nastiness between political figures today?

RG: Vidal and Buckley had a mastery of language that distinguishes them from today’s bloviators. They were original thinkers, promulgating their own ideas–they weren’t spouting talking points. They are fully invested in what they are saying, unlike many of the shills we hear today. Additionally, their mastery of the classics–literature, history, economics, philosophy–allowed them to bring so much more to bear on their conversation. They were public intellectuals who understood television (and understood the importance of wit). Lastly, at the time there were only three networks, so TV was broadcasting instead of narrowcasting; they were not preaching to the choir like Fox News or other channels. They realized they could change peoples’ minds, whereas today’s figures want to anger their listeners so they’ll vote emotionally rather than logically.

C: Do you think Colbert’s move to network “Late Night” will bring modern “intellectuals” into the public eye?

RG: We can certainly hope so! It worked in the past–Cavett, David Frost, Tom Snyder. Maybe it’ll work so well that someone else will also try it!

C: What do you hope audiences will take away from the film, especially given our current political climate and ramp up to the next election?

RG: My hope is really for networks and for TV–that they’ll learn they can trust an audience, that big words don’t scare us, that we’d rather hear smart people than loud ones, that we don’t mind a long discussion, that short discussions don’t have to have shouting, that being smart isn’t bad and something to hide. I don’t want to elect a president I’d rather have a beer with, I want a president I can be in awe of, who’ll think of answers to situations I wouldn’t think of. I want audiences to come away from Best of Enemies mad as hell that networks treat us so badly–mad as hell and won’t take it anymore!

Best of Enemies is now playing in Philly area theaters.

Author: Jill Malcolm

Jill is happiest attending midnight screenings with other crazy film fans at her local theater. Her other passions include reading, traveling to faraway places, cat videos, pugs, and jalapeño peppers. She is co-founder of the blog Filmhash.

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