Sometimes the wildest ideas deliver the most lasting results.

When time was approaching to cover the 1968 American presidential election primaries, ABC news was running a distant third in the ratings. In an effort to do something different, they pulled away from live goings-on every evening to allow two pundits to debate the issues on live television. Representing the American left, author Gore Vidal. Representing the American right, commentator William F. Buckley, Jr.

The two men lobbed shots at the other side – and each other – for eight nights on live television, culminating in a fiery moment that will forever live in broadcasting infamy.

What might be this film’s greatest show of prowess is the way you don’t have to know – or even care – about what these two men were debating. You don’t need to be an American history major or a political scientist to be drawn into the tale of two intelligent people trying to outdo one-another on national television.

Further, it’s amazing to just listen to these guys talk about the issues of the day. Here in The Information Age, each of them would have to speak at double the volume and twice the pace to get a word in edgewise. Here though, their barbs and ideas – about the topics at-hand and about each-other’s character – are well-measured, well-spoken, and razor-sharp. It makes us realize that most of the personalities on our current 24-hour-news-cycle are mopeds, where these two gentlemen were Ferraris.

BEST OF ENEMIES isn’t just a love letter to a pair of 20th century intellectuals, rather it wants us, for a moment, to consider the very nature of an argument. Like someone yelling “FIGHT!” on a playground, there is something about a passionate argument that draws us in. We don’t intervene, we don’t even speak it aloud lest it come to a fast end like a pitcher throwing a no-hitter. Instead we crowd around, pass the popcorn, and watch the barbs fly.

Is it because we are inspired by the passion of the opposing minds? Because we want someone to give a voice to a particular struggle we believe in? Or is it just because loves a good Donnybrook?

What’s amazing to see from all these years later is the way these two men were never quite the same without each other after these two weeks in 1968. They kept at it for several years more, and both of them were tremendously successful in their own fields, but like enemy generals who still hear the thunder of guns in their ears, something about each these two men burrowed under the skin of the other and stayed there. Perish the thought that for a moment each thought the other might be right. I dare say, you wouldn’t even get them to agree on who won these debates.

But if one thing is for sure, both Buckley Jr. and Vidal saw something in each-other that was rare and remained with them the rest of their days. If nothing else, when all was said and done, each saw the other as a worthy opponent.

BEST OF ENEMIES has finished its Hot Docs engagement. Keep an eye on its official website for future showings.