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Gore Vidal – The United States of Amnesia

Year: 2013
Production Co: Amnesia Productions
Director: Nicholas Wrathall
Cast: Gore Vidal

You might know Gore Vidal's name from the annals of liberalism or the left-leaning arts, and if you've always been curious about him, this film is a great primer into the man, his art and politics.

As the film explains it, Vidal was born into white privilege in America, eventually turning his back on what could have been a lucrative and gilded life in the halls of conservative power. Instead he became a writer, libertarian, cultural critic and intellectual whose name loomed as much over the 20th century as did that of Noam Chomsky.

It's never clear whether Vidal really was an outsider or whether he stayed an insider who styled himself one. He (apparently – it's never made explicitly clear) was a gay man who lived with his lover, decamping America to move to an idyllic seaside mountain village in Italy from where he could see the American condition more clearly form the outside.

But what the film doesn't talk about, admit or probe might be saying something about how Vidal was his own self-crafted enigma, too smart for all of us to answer speculations about who he really was. He was always so quick and certain with a put-down or well-constructed criticism it's like every conversation he took part in was pre-scripted.

The one thing he seemed to enjoy really doing was taking the air out of people's sails, even if they were on his side. Watching him rebuff Christopher Hitchens at a swanky London event when the latter wants to do all but lick his boots (the film claims Hitchens wanted to be Vidal) is as excruciating as it is funny.

There are some parallels with Life Itself, the Roger Ebert doco, in that it took place near the end of Vidal's life and both the subject and the film are investigating the legacy he left. It's neither didactic or hagiographic – both of which Vidal probably would have hated – and it's a great place to introduce yourself to one of history's intellectual giants.

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