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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Biography > Politics > TV > Networks > Media > Comedy > Skits > Sketches > Short Films > Music > C > Best Of Enemies: Buckley Vs. Vidal (2015/Magnolia Blu-ray)/The Great American Dream Machine (1971 - 1973/S'More Entertainment DVD Box Set)

Best Of Enemies: Buckley Vs. Vidal (2015/Magnolia Blu-ray)/The Great American Dream Machine (1971 - 1973/S'More Entertainment DVD Box Set)

Picture: B-/C+ Sound: C+/C Extras: C+/C- Main Programs: B

Here are two new releases about the last golden age of television (the late 1960s to the mid-1970s) that are very much worth your time.

Best Of Enemies: Buckley Vs. Vidal (2015) is a new documentary by Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon that does three things: tells a story about U.S. politics, tells a story about TV as a rising medium and attempts biographies of both William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal. It succeeds well for the most part, but there is one glaring, borderline ignorant part of the program that was mazing... and amazingly inaccurate that must be addressed before we can move on. This has to do with that attacks on the ABC Television Network of the time that had the Buckley/Vidal debates and the highly immature trashing thereof.

It is suggested that ABC was such a bad, low-rent network at the time that all they could show were 'poor' series like The Flying Nun and Irwin Allen's Land Of The Giants, both of which were hits. In real life, not even including most of their music, variety and anthology series, ABC was the home of programs as good as what CBS and NBC offered at the time. To prove this, I offer the following list of their shows from the decade, usually hits and a few classics, including...

Maverick, Surfside 6, The Rifleman, Ozzie & Harriett, My Three Sons, The Untouchables, The Flintstones, Leave It To Beaver, The Lawrence Welk Show, Ben Casey, Naked City, My Little Margie, 77 Sunset Strip, The Jetsons, Combat!, McHale's Navy, The Outer Limits, The Fugitive, The Patty Duke Show, Burke's Law, Honey West, Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, Peyton Place, Jonny Quest, Bewitched, The Addams Family, The F.B.I., F Troop, The Big Valley, Rat Patrol, The Invaders, Batman, That Girl, Time Tunnel, It Takes A Thief and The Mod Squad. Plus, they were smart enough to pick up the British TV spy classic The Avengers, plus the now cult spy show Man In A Suitcase.

Does that look like the slate of a TV network in trouble or with second-rate shows? Only if you wouldn't know a good TV show if your life depended on it and hey... no reality TV shows!

If anything, I would argue that the network that would pick up some of these shows would be the only one that would even consider the Buckley/Vidal pairing. Until PBS (initially known as NET) showed up, ABC was the network most likely to try something different that was smart, though that ironically ended soon after when they made the mistake of passing on All In The Family, but hey would be #1 before NBC ever was by the mid-1970s, so that should refute the documentary's glaring error that makes it look bad.

With that said, it gets much of its central story correct as the network did not do full coverage (for money reasons, among another mixed factor; news was not supposed to be a for-profit business and ABC couldn't afford to lose the money from hot shows) so they get the conservative Buckley and liberal Vidal, both from elite backgrounds, to debate the issues. To their surprise, they agree and off they go to both major party's conventions and at first, it is smart, interesting and becomes a surprise hit for ABC. It also changed political coverage on TV and all media forever, including one heated exchange so shocking, even the network was stunned.

The documentary is also very thorough about their extreme views, their successes, sometimes unique stances, controversies and in Vidal's case, his secret cinematic assist (he wrote a nice chunk of the 1959 Ben-Hur screenplay) and giant critical and cinematic bombs (Fox's Myra Breckinridge and Penthouse Magazine's Caligula, reviewed elsewhere on this site) that would bring even the most liberal person to wonder what exactly he really grasped about human sexuality, no matter what his was. But the other thing is to see the TV medium (still getting its credibility at the time before that went out the window starting in the late 1980s) a mere years after the Kennedy Assassination where Walter Cronkite had to hold up a newspaper to show the audience that they were not kidding the the President had been killed (controversy notwithstanding).

Thus, despite a big side faux pau, Best Of Enemies: Buckley Vs. Vidal is absolutely worth your time, even if I had a few issues with it.

Extras include an hour of Extended Interviews, the Original Theatrical Trailer and on-camera interviews with the co-directors.

Of course, innovation was starting to happen everywhere and the rise of public television was a big moment for the medium, pushing the big three networks to get more innovative. First known as National Educational Television (or NET), then the PBS Network it remains today, The Great American Dream Machine (1971 - 1973) which was produced by WNET in New York was a groundbreaking series that mixed skits, films, music performances, comedy, politics, avant garde filmmaking, animation and much more in a show that quickly understood the power of videotape and the kind of editing that made Laugh-In a huge comedy hit, then did a more adult, intellectual take on it with the title sticking to exploring what exactly (before the pre-Reagan era wanted to end upward mobility) what in a country that was at war with itself at the time (Vietnam was not over until a few years after the show ended) brought people together, in which ways were we not at war and what is that dream about. What was it always about?

The result included early commentary segments by Andy Rooney, who eventually became an icon thanks to CBS' 60 Minutes, similar segments with Studs Terkel, Dick Cavett and Marshall Efron, the disembodied head of a then unknown Chevy Chase as one of two men shown as such lip-syncing music and sound effects comically at the beginning of most every episode, music legends in action like Artie Shaw, Elaine Stritch (in a particularly remarkable moment), Carly Simon is here, the great Jazz/Rock band Blood, Sweat & Tears from rarely seen tour film footage giving interviews on the road is here, another amazing film has the Velvet Voice himself - Mel Torme in exceptionally powerful form and there are more music acts.

Then you have early acting turns of future big stars like Albert Brooks (Penny Marshall plays his office secretary in a brief turn at the beginning of one of several of his filmed skits), several skits about women with Linda Lavin before her star turn on Barney Miller and classic star-making role as Alice, Henry Winkler in an improv with some other good actors, Charles Grodin & Martin Mull show up, no less than Kurt Vonnegut Jr. reads from his classic book Slaughterhouse Five (which had just been turned into a remarkable feature film), Amy Vanderbilt, we get some fun (and time capsule-valuable) people on the street interviews on various topics (the original episode shad them) and other people of means let their guard down and also give remarkable interviews.

Yet all that does not do justice to how rich, smart, clever, advanced and surprisingly enduring the show is. I remembered many of the segments as I watched it when it was on and in reruns, including repackaged shows (i.e., season highlights) that turn up on some of the discs here. Sadly, the show was never revived, but it is a lost classic long overdue for re-release and rediscovery. As a result, this is easily one of the top DVD box sets of the year.

A paper pullout with an essay on the series by David Bianculli is the only extra.

Ironically, both great releases are built on classic work in the standard-definition analog TV of U.S. color TV. The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on Enemies has plenty of such footage, plus vintage film footage, old black and white videotape and stills throughout that make for an effective mix usually edited together well and usually of the best quality one could expect. However, some used to HDTV all the time might be initially thrown off, but don't be. The 1.33 X 1 color image on all episodes of Machine are transferred pretty well, though I wonder if more advanced NTSC decoding and some tape repair could have helped at times. Still, this is as cleaned up as you can get otherwise and looks good. Some segments are filmed, but they are only here as the old analog transfers from the 1970s they were first made as. I hope those (mostly if not all 16mm films) have survived on film. A Blu-ray of those segments would be a nice idea down the line.

The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Enemies is well mixed and presented, but obviously much of the key audio is old television monophonic sound, so only expect so much dynamic range here. The newer audio is simple stereo interviews, but music is well used to the makers' credit. The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on episodes of Machine are a little more compressed and lower in volume than I would have liked, but I bet these could sound better depending on the condition of the original television monophonic sound. Otherwise, be careful of volume switching and high volumes.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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