“We Brought the Fear, He Brought the Loathing”: Best of Enemies | Directors Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon
What fear — whether it’s personal, or one related to the development, financing, production or distribution of your film — did you have to confront and conquer in the making of your movie?
It’s heady air in the worlds of William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal, two esteemed public intellectuals of, mostly, the latter 20th century. Buckley died before we began this film but Gore was alive, if in his declining years. Cantankerous and mean in his prime, he’d commented on his own persona saying, “Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.” Gore not only didn’t suffer fools, he tended to not suffer people.
We were finally granted an interview, and we were intimidated. He had a deep command of history, literature, the classics, politics and we figured we’d be chewed up and spat out for not knowing Pericles’ philosophy of empire or for missing a reference to Julian the Apostate.
We lit the living room of his Hollywood Hills mansion, the light streaming like in film noir, and Gore was wheeled in. We brought the fear, he brought the loathing: He looked at the floor, scowling, greeting no one. One of the crew shared that his uncle had been in the Aleutian Islands during World War II when Gore served, and that his uncle could never get warm. Gore finally looked up, glowering, shooting poison darts with his eyes and he said, “I had my rage to keep me warm.”
The interview proceeded, basically, apace. He accused us of being Buckley-ites, and he tended to sabotage all his answers by not including the subject in them; he’d done enough interviews to know what he was doing. Afterward, he invited us upstairs for cocktails. Instead of a parlor, we found ourselves invited into his bedroom. He asked us to sit, but there were no chairs. We sat on the edge of his bed and Gore was different, much more cordial; the camera was not rolling.
We didn’t use the interview in the show, but having survived it, it’s hard to imagine a future interview would ever be a worry.
[PREMIERE SCREENING: Friday January 23 at 11:45 am — Library Center Theatre]