Posts Tagged With: movie review

‘Best Of Enemies’ — The 1968 Event That Launched Modern TV News


Getting an accurate source of information is difficult in the United States. Although news organizations seldom hide their political slant anymore parsing out the truth from the various agencies is, even for the most diligent viewer, a difficult task. Some even claim fact-checking sites are biased.

But it was a singular TV event that launched our modern world of pundit TV – the concept of bringing on two guests with opposing viewpoints onto a show — and then asking questions designed to create to lively debate. It makes for great TV since the guests are usually entertaining.

The beginning of this modern news approach is captured in the film Best of Enemies. The film is currently available on Netflix.

A Year Of Turmoil

The year is 1968 – one of the most critical, turning points in modern American history – and the players on the stage are two intellectual men – one from the left, author Gore Vidal, and one from the right, William Buckley Jr., founder and editor of the National Review.

Best_of_EnemiesSetting The Stage

The film is built around a series of debates that ABC news held during the GOP and Democrat presidential conventions in 1968. ABC was the third ranking TV company in the country – and a very low-ranking third at best. Since they could not compete with CBS or NBC – they decided to abort the standard approach of gavel-to-gavel convention coverage and try something new. They invited Buckley and Vidal to commentate on the conventions. What unfolded on camera was the increasing disgust the men felt for each other.

Behind The Scenes

If the film only covered the debates, it would quickly mire in a he said-he said event that most Americans have grown accustomed to. But the film also pulls in the events of 1968 – like the police brutality in Chicago and the changing rhetoric and language concerning race – and provides biographical sketches of the two men. Buckley, of course, largely through his publication is credited with creating the Ronald Reagan constituency while Vidal became one of the most provocative and successful novelists of his generation. Both men were well-connected with high ranking politicians including presidents. Both men viewed the other as the personification of everything that was wrong in the United States.

Hatred Explodes On Air

The climax of the film is the final debate between the two men. An exchange becomes very heated during a discussion concerning the police brutality in Chicago. The confrontation quickly moves from politics to personal when Vidal calls Buckley a crypto-Nazi and Buckley comes unglued. After calling Vidal a [expletive] queer Buckley threatens to punch Vidal. All of this unfolds on live TV – relatively tame by today’s standards.

In The End

The men continued to spar publically after the incident — both writing print pieces about the meltdown — and Buckley filed a defamation suit against Vidal over Vidal’s article. Vidal filed a countersuit. After the event, Buckley launched a successful TV show and Vidal continued to write — although his fame began to falter in the 1980s.

Who Should Watch It?

If you are not interested in political theory and the forces that create it, then don’t watch the film. However, if you are interested in how TV news became pundit-based, it’s worth watching. The film looks at how a ABS’s desire to improve ratings forever changed the way Americans received their news.

Rated 4 out of 5

Although I am not a Buckley fan, I did feel that the film was slanted somewhat against him and his position. But, in the film’s defense, Buckley is not necessarily a likeable person. In live footage, he comes across as arrogant, conceited and, in general, very unpleasant with a condescending attitude. Vidal, on the other hand, in the live footage is more polished, but it did appear (I did not count minutes) that Vidal was given more time (via interviews) to expound on his belief that Buckley’s ideology was undermining and destroying the democratic process in America.

Categories: American History, movies | Tags: , , ,

Mother Learns Painful Lesson In Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale_Station_posterFruitvale Station is the 2013 film based on the true story of Oscar Grant. It opens with real-life footage of Grant being detained and then ends when he is shot in the back by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle. Grant dies nine hours later in Highland Hospital.

The incident led to murder charges against Mehserle and a multi-million dollar settlement.

A Day In The Life

Although the movie brings out these various facts as the story unfolds, the intent of the film is to humanize Grant by relaying the events of his last day, December 31, 2008. What unfolds is the life of a troubled man on the brink of change, as well as, three females who care deeply for him. His mother, played by Octavia Spencer, his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) and his young daughter – played by Ariana Neal. All of these individuals lose a part of their life when Grant dies, but in many ways, the story is about a mother’s struggle and her loss.

A Mother’s Love

In one flashback scene Grant’s mother is visiting him in prison and he has what appears to be a fist mark on his face. When she enquires about the mark, he changes the subject, but when another prisoner, threatens him and disrespects his mother — Grant verbally fights back. After the guards subdue the situation, his mother tries to calm him down. When he doesn’t respond positively, it is the straw that ‘breaks the camel’s back’ and she walks out – telling him she will never visit him in prison again.

It’s the classic act of tough love, but as the story unfolds, it’s apparent that the mother’s love for her wayward son runs deep. Deep enough, that it will eventually cost him his life.

On his final day, Grant visits his mother for her birthday dinner. She wants to believe he is finally on the right path. Since it is New Year’s Eve and he is going to San Francisco to watch the fireworks, she knows he will be drinking so she asks him to take the train instead of driving.

It’s a request that haunts her as she views his dead body at the end of the film.

Although some may feel the movie is heavy handed in its portrayal of Grant – showing him as a repentant man determined to live a good life – the underlying message is valid. Life is sacred. Every shooting victim is someone’s son, father or brother.

Rated: 4 out of 5. The movie is worth watching for a wide range of reasons, but possibly the most powerful scene is when Grant’s mother is not allowed inside the hospital room where her son’s dead body lies.

Afterthought

Although movies like Fruitvale Station highlight the humanity in a horrific situation, I’m not convinced they do much to sway public opinion. As Alan Deutschman points out in Change or Die, the three most common methods used to change people’s opinion – fear, facts and force – do not work. This movie relies mostly on facts and fear.

I think most individuals watching this film will already believe institutionalized prejudice exists. Those who do not believe the issue exists – those who champion causes like all lives matter, blue lives matter – or subscribe to the concepts espoused by Bill O’Reilly — will see the man’s death as the results of his own actions.

As a white man, though, I have never feared police confrontation. In 30-plus years of driving, I have been pulled over maybe a half a dozen times — and in only one incident have I dealt with an aggressive, combative officer (which, as the movie accurately points out, was part of the problem in the Fruitvale incident). Although the officer initiated the contact between us by ‘yelling me down,’ and I responded in a verbally assertive manner, I never feared for my safety or of being wrongly apprehended.

The incident ended without so much as a warning ticket.

In a perfect world, Grant would have, at most, been arrested for disorderly conduct and maybe public intoxication.

But as history has proven, sometimes the response to an act is not in direct proportion to the offense.

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