Santa Cruz Good Times

Saturday
Nov 22nd
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Graveheart

fm vidalWitty pessimist Gore Vidal profiled in documentary 'United States of Amnesia'

Despite his demeanor as a patrician observer, Gore Vidal was a political insider from a very young age. Growing up in the Washington, D.C. household of his grandfather, Thomas Gore, the blind U.S. Senator from Oklahoma, young Vidal read him all the daily newspapers. Later, he accompanied his grandfather to the Senate every day as a page, where he had a ringside seat for the way the American political system works—and fails to work.

In this crucible of experience, the young Vidal formed strong opinions on the promise of American democracy, as conceived by the Founding Fathers, and the gradual corruption of that democracy by the forces of money and power. Vidal spent all of his life as a celebrated novelist, essayist, playwright, commentator, and bon vivant trying to warn the American people of the ways their democracy was being eroded out from under them. This urgent warning continues from beyond the grave in Nichols D. Wrathall's absorbing documentary, Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia.

Wrathall’s film is more than a biography of Vidal (who died in 2012 at the age of 86). It’s also a concise and engaging collection of the opinions—witty, scandalous, scathing—on American politics and society that shaped Vidal’s life. The media-savvy author was a popular talk-show guest and broadcast news commentator all through his career, and Wrathall employs a wealth of TV clips from various decades, as well as his own extensive interview footage of Vidal toward the end of his days (aging, but no less ferocious), to tell the story of this remarkable life.

The earliest footage we see of Vidal is as a 10-year-old boy, nonchalantly flying a small plane designed by his aeronautical engineer father, Eugene Vidal (who “wanted to be the Henry Ford of aviation,” his son recalls). In retrospect, Vidal, the younger, spares no sentiment on his impossible mother, but romanticizes his beloved grandfather Gore as “the only senator from Oklahoma, an oil state, who had no money, because he took no graft.”

After a prep school education and a stint in the Army—which led to writing his first novel, Williwaw, on the folly of war—Vidal declined to go to Harvard, and went to Italy instead. More novels followed, one of which, The City and the Pillar, was so notorious for its frank depiction of homosexuality that the New York Times refused to review it—or anything else Vidal wrote for the next five years. Undaunted, Vidal wrote plays, screenplays, TV teleplays, essays, a mystery series and other successful novels, then relocated permanently to a house in Ravello, Italy, in the 1960s, with his longtime companion, Howard Austen. Here, he acquired the proper distance to write the series of American history novels (Burr, 1976, Lincoln, etc) for which he is most acclaimed.

His simultaneous career as a left-wing “celebrity intellectual” on U.S. TV is also well documented here. Vidal’s on-air feuds with waspish arch-conservative William F. Buckley and a choleric Norman Mailer are included. But more illuminating are Vidal's off-the-cuff observations sprinkled throughout on American culture, politics, and society—from the “false mystique” of the Kennedys (it was JFK, not Johnson, he reminds us, who committed troops to Vietnam) to the notion that Harry S. Truman militarized U.S. society.

Vidal states that “the dream of every society is total control,” and suggests that American democracy is now based on “socialism for the rich,” who live off enormous government subsidies, “and free enterprise for the poor.” On the marketing of politicians, he notes that “Advertising … is the only art form America ever perfected,” and despairs over what is lost morally in the process of financing a presidential campaign. Vidal calls himself a pessimist because whenever he wants to know what motivates our culture, “I look into my own black heart.”

While his opinions are often deliberately provocative, his ideas stem from a lifetime of shrewd, if sad, contemplation of the human animal. Wrathall’s film is a fascinating glimpse into that somewhat rueful, yet stubbornly principled heart of darkness.


GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA *** (out of four) Opens June 27 at the Nickelodeon. With Gore Vidal. A film by Nicholas D. Wrathall. An IFC Films release. Not Rated. 83 minutes.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Pop Life

The pop-up dining trend is freeing culinary imaginations and creating a guerilla version of event dining around Santa Cruz

 

Over Hills and Plains, Riding a White Horse, Bow and Arrows in Hand

Saturday, early morning, the sun enters and radiates the light of Sagittarius. Three hours later, the Sagittarius new moon (0.07 degrees) occurs. “Let food be sought,” is the personality-building keynote. “Food” means experiences; all kinds, levels and types. It also means real food. Sag’s secret is their love of food. Many, if not musicians, are chefs. Some are both. The energies shift from Scorpio’s deep and transformative waters to the “hills and plains of Sagittarius.” Sag is the rider on a white horse, eyes focused on the mountain peaks of Capricorn (Initiation) ahead. Like Scorpio, Sagittarius is also the “disciple.” Adventure, luck, optimism, joy and the beginnings of gratitude are the hallmarks of Sagittarius. Sag is also one of the signs of silence. The battle lines were drawn in Libra and we were asked to choose where we stood. The Nine Tests were given in Scorpio and we emerged “warriors triumphant.” Now in Sag, we are to be the One-Pointed Disciple, riding over the plains on a white horse, bow and arrows in hand, eyes focused on the Path of Return ahead. Sagittarians are one-pointed (symbol of the arrow). Sag asks, “What is my life’s purpose?” This is their quest, from valleys, plains, meadows and hills, eyes aimed always at the mountaintop. Sag emerges from Scorpio’s deep waters, conflict and tests into the open air. Sag’s quest is humanity’s quest. Sag’s quest, however, is always accompanied by music and good food.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of November 21

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Pie Fidelity

A little Thanksgiving help, plus sip and shop locally at the Art, Wine and Gift Bazaar

 

What should be on everyone’s bucket list?

Hang gliding, because you're free as a bird. Jenni, Santa Cruz, Student/Administrative Assistant

 

Soquel Vineyards

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, so it’s time to be thinking about the wine you’re going to serve with that special dinner, be it turkey, ham, a roast, or something vegetarian or vegan.

 

The Kitchen

Chef Santos Majano talks beer-friendly food at Discretion Brewery