The late writer and political commentator Gore Vidal was a staple of the post-WWII intelligentsia, his keen insights and biting wit winning him devoted fans and disgusted enemies in equal measure. Nicholas Wrathall’s documentary—rough-edged in style, yet anchored by pointed and poignant interviews with the man himself—is mostly for those already fascinated by Vidal’s colorful life.
Of course, his testy showdown with William F. Buckley Jr. at the 1968 Democratic convention (where Vidal’s “crypto-Nazi” taunt was parried by his pissed-off debate opponent’s “queer”) is among the many archival clips, all of them assembled with a haphazard, highlight-reel approach. But the familiar stuff isn’t as rewarding as more recent footage of this prolific provocateur: He shrugs his shoulders while watching Obama’s first inaugural as if to say “Same shit, different day,” and turns a chillingly cold shoulder to Christopher Hitchens after his former protégé attempts to pay his respects at a book signing.
Vidal may be physically frail: Onscreen he already seems like a man readying for the inevitable, which came in 2012. Yet he’s still astute enough to offer plenty of pithy commentary, while also delightedly living up to his self-description: “Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.”
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