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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.
"Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia"
"Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia"

In part, that’s because Wrathall had never studied U.S. history in depth -- he admits that he learned a lot about the United States through the process of reading Vidal’s work and making the film. Wrathall’s passion for the project saved it from possible collapse, particularly during 2007 and 2008, when he harbored doubts about whether the film would ever end up happening and even stepped away from the project for a year.

But those uncertainties and delays, Wrathall says, made the final product richer and more comprehensive. Of course, there was the added time the director had to delve into Vidal’s written work and do additional archival research. But even more importantly, it gave Vidal himself the chance to critique two administrations, providing Wrathall with a trove of additional material. "Somehow," Wrathall told me, "it wouldn’t have been the film as it is if we’d done it over a year or two, which is what I’d originally imagined."

Vidal passed away in 2012, and the author’s death drove Wrathall to finish the film. "I always imagined Gore would be there and roll out on stage when we had the premiere," Wrathall said.  "And that wasn’t to be."  Of course, the author’s written works will live on, no doubt amusing, shocking and inspiring many readers to come.  But the contribution of "Gore Vidal" is more personal and more intimate. Vidal lived so long in the public eye that to sit down with him face-to-face (in a way) is to see the human heart behind the sparkling mind. 

Perhaps Wrathall’s own outsider status made him the ideal candidate for telling Vidal’s story. Born and raised in Australia, the director has lived in the United States for many years, watching the nation change and even living in New York during 9/11, but viewing everything through the perspective of a foreigner. Like Vidal, Wrathall has a critical eye, aided by its ability to examine the U.S. from a greater distance, and entertainingly yet compellingly expose the absurdities of American politics. As Vidal himself would no doubt be quick to point out, that is something that we could use a good deal more of.

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

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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.