We are ultimately, creatures of complexity and that is certainly the case of the late Gore Vidal. In Outfest’s penultimate offering of “The United States of Amnesia”, director Nicholas Wrathall takes us on the final journey of an American scribe and intellectual.
From the beginning of the film where we see a very elderly Gore Vidal visit his own grave, one can sense this is about to be a good piece of documentary film making. And it is.
The story of Gore Vidal, born in 1925 is one of American privilege and wealth. One can hear in his fathers voice, and in his own voice later, that hint of aristocracy, the lingering of a vowel, reminding of us their European roots. We see a young Gore write the now infamous novel, The City and the Pillar and become condemned for it. It was 1948 and openly gay characters in literature were rare, and homosexuality was considered immoral. Vidal would be intrepid throughout his life and this novel was only the beginning.
Wrathall had the good sense to let Vidal do all the talking and that he does. He speaks candidly about the Kennedy presidency (to whom he was distantly related) as the origin of the Viet Nam war, and George Bush as “the stupidest man in the United States”.
Vidal moved to Hollywood and began a career as a screenwriter, penning “The Best Man” and working on the screenplay for Ben-Hur.
Vidal ran for political office and never won. In the 1960s he moved to Italy with his longtime companion, Howard Austen, who would remain with him until his death in 2005. Vidal had a particular take on intimacy to which he suggested that he and Austen were best friends, not lovers and that, “ It’s easy to sustain a relationship when sex plays no part and impossible, I have observed, when it does.”
He had very public feuds with William F. Buckley and Norman Mailer and one is well documented and frankly very funny, where Buckley on camera says: “Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.” Hard to imagine this kinda of thing today.
This documentary inlcudes interviews with, also now deceased, British writer Christopher Hitchens about how Vidal named him his heir apparent only to then withdraw the commendation and footage showing the men’s uncomfortable last exchange, offer a different perspective to that given by Vidal himself. Vidal did not want himself written off the script as to warrant Hitchens as the heir apparent.