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Oscar Doc Contender 'Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia' Shows the Literary Lion's Intimate Side

Photo of Jacob Combs By Jacob Combs | Thompson on Hollywood November 19, 2014 at 3:42PM

Nicholas Wrathall met Gore Vidal for the first time at the Beverly Hills Hotel. They had brunch on an Easter Sunday while a life-size bunny gallivanted about the restaurant—a “surreal” experience, according to the director—but quickly connected over a discussion about the politics of Wrathall’s native Australia.
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Gore Vidal

Nicholas Wrathall met Gore Vidal for the first time at the Beverly Hills Hotel. They had brunch on an Easter Sunday while a life-size bunny gallivanted about the restaurant -- a "surreal" experience, according to the director -- but quickly connected over a discussion about the politics of Wrathall’s native Australia.

Wrathall's debut feature, the documentary "Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia," opened in summer 2014 with distribution by IFC Films. The project began in earnest in 2005, when Burr Steers, Vidal’s nephew (as well as a producer on the film), told his friend Wrathall that the writer would be moving out of the home in Ravello, Italy that he had shared with his longtime companion Howard Austen since 1972. Wrathall jumped on a plane for Europe, filming Vidal’s farewell to his beloved Villa La Rondinaia and the beautiful Amalfi town around it.

It took almost ten years for Wrathall to finish "Gore Vidal," and he faced such financial challenges during the project that he nearly scrapped it. "It was a difficult process," he told me in a phone interview from Australia. "I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone -- it’s not financially viable really. But if you’re passionate about a project, you’ve just got to be determined and tenacious. I’m very stubborn, I guess -- I didn’t want to let go."

That dogged tenacity describes both the filmmaker and his subject: Vidal stands alone among his fellows as the American author most committed -- almost obsessively so -- to examining our nation’s body politic to understand just what the heck this country is all about. And, remarkably, he did so for many years from the remove of his home in Ravello, which he said gave him the distance and perspective to see America as it truly is. 

Wrathall’s film is at its best when it conveys the astonishing breadth of Vidal’s writing and opinions, and it wisely lets the author speak for himself as much as possible. Through the writer’s work, "Gore Vidal" makes a compelling case about the changes that have transformed the American political system in the last decade (and half-century and century), and Wrathall marshals the evidence powerfully but subtly, bringing his own opinions but employing them to augment, rather than overpower, Vidal’s own.

This article is related to: Gore Vidal, IFC Films, Documentary, Independents, Interviews, Interviews, Documentaries, Awards, Awards Season Roundup


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.