Best of Enemies

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Best of Enemies  (B+).  This may be the first documentary I have seen this year.  It is about the Republican and Democratic National Conventions of 1968, and more particularly about ABC’s decision not to provide wall-to-wall, gavel-to-gavel coverage of the conventions, but rather to broadcast only selected highlights from the conventions, followed by “debates” between a well-known provocateur from each end of the political spectrum.  Those provocateurs were William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal.  The movie consists in large part of contemporaneous news footage about the conventions, as well as excerpts from the “debates” themselves.  I use scare quotes because, as far as I could tell, Buckley and Vidal used the occasion mainly to insult each other, and certainly not to discuss in depth any of the salient issues of the day.  As a long-time subscriber to National Review and admirer of Buckley, I winced when the movie finally got to the most famous exchange between the two, when Vidal called Buckley a “pro- or crypto-Nazi,” Buckley lost his temper, called Vidal a “queer,” and threatened to punch him in the face.  The film-makers want to trace the shouting style of modern punditry to the Buckley–Vidal debates, but I can’t imagine things would be much different by now even if Buckley and Vidal had been more civil and actually made arguments.  Nevertheless, I thought it was an interesting and well-made movie.

Twenty Feet From Stardom

A movie review from The Movie Snob.

Twenty Feet From Stardom  (B).  You know, you probably can make a good documentary about just about anything.  This aptly named documentary is about back-up singers in the rock era.  They have been mostly black women, and, despite their obvious talent, they are pretty much anonymous.  So this movie gives them a rare leading role, and we get to know quite a bit about a small handful of them.  We learn about their backgrounds (lots of preachers’ daughters) and their experiences in the music industry, especially in the 1960s and 1970s.  A few try to become stars in their own right, and it just doesn’t pan out for them.  Several bona fide rock stars give some interviews about their back-up singers, like Sting (Dune), Bruce Springsteen, and Mick Jagger (Freejack), and though they are all appreciative, Jagger does say something to effect of, “Who wants to spend their whole career singing oohs and ahhs?”  There are some interesting anecdotes, like the time one back-up singer answered a 2 a.m. call to participate in a recording session with the Rolling Stones and wound up getting immortalized in “Gimme Shelter.”  All in all, a very pleasant little movie.  I’d give it a higher grade, but it did start to feel a little long towards the end, even though IMDb says it’s only 91 minutes.