Insidiously Intelligent–Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

There is a tension, a building anxiety, which lingers through the darkly humorous rapid-fire documentary Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, featured at this week’s QFest.  Although the film documents the life of legendary openly gay writer, commentator, and (sometimes) politician Vidal, the underlying pulse of the movie suggests that American exceptionalism, a concept deeply criticized by the late Vidal, is ruining the fabric of the country.

The documentary moves at an extremely fast pace that at times becomes almost dizzying.  However, given the scope of Vidal’s remarkable life, and his laundry list of accomplishments, one can understand why the swiftness is required.  Foremost a writer, Vidal can be credited for writing what many consider to be the first American “gay novel,” The City and the Pillar, penned in 1946.  From there, he composed dozens of books, screenplays, dramas, and essays, including the satirical novel Myra Breckinridge that deals with transsexualism and gender identity.

Despite his transparent sexuality, and his relationship with his long-time partner Howard Austen, the documentary suggests that Vidal had an extremely difficult, if not impossible, time dealing with his fellow mankind.  Best summarized by Vidal’s grandfather, senator Thomas Gore, “If there was any race other than the human race, I’d go join it.”  The filmmakers investigate Vidal’s profoundly dark wit and his personal struggle coming to terms with what Vidal saw as a disintegration of fundamental American freedoms.  Vidal’s disgust with the American political system, particularly with what appears to be a never-ending cycle of war, is explored throughout the documentary.  Vidal goes so far as to state, “You know, I've been around the ruling class all my life, and I've been quite aware of their total contempt for the people of the country."

Notwithstanding the darkness, Vidal’s humor is the ultimate star of the film.  In a telephone interview with NPR, Vidal candidly states that he would never believe any conspiracy theories that the Bush presidency planned the 9/11 terror attacks because the attacks were too well thought out and too smartly executed to have the Bush or Cheney blueprint on them.  The audience cautiously laughed at these remarks, appreciating both the man who made them and the truth that lingered underneath the wit.



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