Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia is the “last word and testimony” of one of the last stalwart liberal writers of the 20th century. After the passing of Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut in 2007, last stood Gore Vidal. For those familiar with the writer, the lengthy title is not only a favorite quotation, but also telling to his long, illustrious persona. Since his passing in 2012, the legacy of Vidal has come under speculation. A late surge of coarse rantings against the Bush administration being the prime criticism (from late friend Christopher Hitchens), to darker accusations of pedophilia and anti-semitism. Nicholas Wrathall’s documentary will obviously forego an incriminating condemnation, but will the director, as Vidal certainly would, give credence to these ugly charges?
The United States of Amnesia begins on Vidal’s birth in October 1925 and sifts through the last 87 years until his death. The writer is seen on film as young as age ten, only to proceed with tantamount television appearances, political campaigns, and film work. Contextualizing this frenetic life is always the wit and wisdom of Gore as narrator. Naturally, as the world evolves, as does the personality of the subject. The eccentric life of one of the most public, yet private personalities finally gets the deserved bio-picture. Figures like Tim Robbins, Christopher Hitchens, and Mikhail Gorbachev, lend their opinion on the acquainted writer. Emerges is a sharp-tongued, self-imposed pariah who managed to share the company of the Kennedy’s, share a home with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and, of course, a verbal exchange with William F. Buckley.
Like every Vidal interview, the past is always in the air. And, as we easily recline into Wrathall’s pristine portrait of the author, it is history as perceived by Gore. Opinions on Truman, Eisenhower, Carter, Bush, Clinton, and Obama are not only mentioned, but characteristically imitated and reiterated. Followers of the late writer – the only guaranteed audience of this picture – continue to stray little from these purported assumptions.
Wrathall previously lent his directing ability to a PBS Independent Lens episode entitled ‘Abandoned: The Betrayal of America’s Immigrants.’ Such a title exposes political ideology. Thankfully, it is a similar to the figure chronicled in The United States of Amnesia. Audiences are spared indulgence over the contemporary speculation the Vidal legacy. With good reason, too, as the claims (usually) lead to construed facts meant to add zeros to a paycheck; the verdict is still out on his Polanski opinion. Instead, a comprehensive overview of a witty polemicist and political orator delights viewers from 1925 to after the grave, in 2014.