Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Gore Vidal: United States of Amnesia [2013]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Slant (2 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
SlantMagazine (W. Greene) review 
EyeForFilm (A. Wilkinson) review
Variety (D. Harvey) review 

Gore Vidal: United States of Amnesia [2013] (directed by Nicholas D. Wrathall) is IMHO an excellent if certainly fawning documentary about Gore Vidal [IMDb] one of the more articulate Americans of the last 100 years.   

PATRICIAN (Gore, born Eugene Louis Vidal, a grandson of U.S. Senator, Thomas Gore (OK), knew Eleanor Roosevelt, who even campaigned for him when he ran, unsuccessfully, for public office, as well as Jackie Kennedy even before she met JFK), ATHEIST (throughout his life he maintained that Judaism, Christianity and Islam were the three biggest curses to befall humanity in its history), HOMOSEXUAL (he wrote and published the first openly gay American novel, The City and the Pillar [1948] which he dedicated to "J.T.," who turned out to be a friend and U.S. serviceman who died on Iwo Jima who Gore later claimed was the only person he ever truly loved), he certainly gloried in being a GADFLY to the AMERICAN ESTABLISHMENT from which he came. 

But he certainly made people think.  His commentaries alongside SIMILARLY ARTICULATE and CONSDERVATIVE ICON William F. Buckley, Jr (!) during the 1968 (!) U.S. Presidential campaign became the stuff of legend, and unforgettable excerpts are happily included in this documentary.  Indeed, both he and William Buckley SET THE BAR for intelligent (and witty) public discourse SO MUCH HIGHER THAN WE ARE ACCUSTOMED TO TODAY that part of the effect of watching this documentary is to make one wonder if we have fallen off some cliff from a past golden age.

And yes, he did become an intellectual celebrity who attracted the likes of Sting and the Rolling Stones to his, yes, almost "god-like / cliff-side" lair facing the Mediterranean Sea somewhere on the west coast of Italy where he and his (presumably gay) "life-partner" Howard Austen would watch sunsets in truly Olympian splendor.  (The home, again featured in the documentary, was worthy of a Bond / Austin Powers character). 

As presented in the documentary, his was an almost absurdly ostentatious life.  But you just listen to him speak, just effortlessly dressing-down/verbally reducing-to-ashes some of the most powerful people of his time or from his life (from Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown, both former governors of California where he lived at one time, to his own mother... ;-) and you look then at that insanely beautiful home of his again in Italy, and it's just staggering:  If one was going to be rich and powerful, perhaps even obscenely rich and powerful, Gore Vidal would not seem to be an entirely awful role model to have, though honestly, Nero or Caligula could be imagined as (his) neighbors. 

Anyway, it makes for a remarkable and often FUN documentary about someone who, if nothing else, actively did choose to live his life to (his) fullest. 

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