Review: Gore Vidal’s pointed witticisms fly again

Gore Vidal and Mikhail Gorbachev in the documentary "Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia."
Gore Vidal and Mikhail Gorbachev in the documentary “Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia.”
(Amnesia LLC / IFC Films)

If you’re starved for the kind of piercing wit rarely exhibited by today’s movie heroes and villains, the archival company offered up in the documentary “Gore Vidal: United States of Amnesia” is wholly satisfying.

For decades until his death two years ago as a leading “thorn in the American establishment,” essayist-storyteller-pundit-provocateur Vidal gave public intellectualism a sweetly savory good name, as Nicholas Wrathall’s brisk collection of epigram-laced interviews with Vidal and his admirers attests. And when footage won’t do, other choice quotes — “I’m a born-again atheist” — appear in big block letters.

Needless to say, so much of Vidal on Vidal is hardly an objective experience, but it’s an enlightening glimpse at a well-observed education in deep liberalism (as an FDR-era Senate page), political distrust (as a Kennedy family confidant), camera-ready intelligence (as a talk show regular) and psychologically astute creativity (as an alternative-history novelist).

Vidal’s robust mind was forged in a distaste for class warfare and empire-building that remains as trenchant today as when he routinely slapped around the powerful and privileged — most famously conservative icon William F. Buckley in those 1960s debates. Ever mindful of the line he straddled between thinker and flamethrower, this “Gore Vidal” is nevertheless a lovingly packaged greatest hits from a legendary rebel of letters.



‘Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia’

MPAA rating: None.

Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes.


Playing: At Landmark’s Nuart, Los Angeles.