Morgan Neville’s preceding endeavour, Twenty Feet From Stardom, won the biggest prize a documentary feature can; an Academy Award. He’s now teamed up with Robert Gordon for Best of Enemies, and while focusing on a completely different topic – in this case, the infamous television debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr – yet again he’s shown off an aptitude for focusing on a very specific theme, and yet using it as a window to study a wider culture and society.

In 1968, CBS and NBC were the two leading news networks in America – and trailing behind in third (they’d have been fourth if there were that many – according to one cultural commentator), is ABC. In a bid to gain some ratings, they televised live debates between two great intellectuals; the right-wing conservative William F. Buckley Jr, and the liberal writer Gore Vidal. In the lead up to the election, the pair embarked on a series of vitriolic meetings, as two venerable personalities and literary luxuriates squared up for the very first time. This changed the face of politics, as millions tuned in every evening, as the focus turned primarily to the spectacle, rather than the ideologies of the conflicting parties.

There’s a pertinency to this feature, as one that will resonate greatly with a contemporary crowd – as only recently during the election in the United Kingdom, we again saw such a focus on personality over policy – which can accredited back to these very debates in 1968. The tabloid newspaper The Sun were seemingly more concerned at the way former Labour leader Ed Miliband would eat a sandwich, rather than his actual doctrine, for example.

The filmmakers have put these events together in a tremendously accomplished fashion, as we drift seamlessly between talking head interviews and footage from the debates – while we gather an extensive knowledge of the political, and media landscape of the time, helping us fully comprehend the events – though the fact that even today we still have right wing and left wing speakers locking horns on national television, arguing similar themes and ideals, it’s rather easy to contextualise the narrative. What doesn’t work so well, however, is having John Lithgow and Kelsey Grammer narrate as the voices of Vidal and Buckley respectively. It’s distracting and takes you out of the story – as suddenly we’re replacing two very distinctive, idiosyncratic voices, with another two highly identifiable figures, and it becomes difficult to place them, and adhere to it. Using random voice-over artists may have worked better in this instance.

But where Best of Enemies truly excels, is within it’s ability to remain entirely impartial throughout – which, considering the content, is no easy task. When dealing directly with a feature that chronicles the debates taking place between two conflicting personalities, to stay within the centre and present all of the footage and facts in a way that doesn’t take any sides is commendable, and in this instance, essential.

You can see a list of screenings for the movie here.