I always wondered what it would be like to meet or see Oscar Wilde if he were alive in my time. Well, the closest we’re ever going to come, I think, is to regard the life of Gore Vidal, who is marvelously, completely depicted in a great new doc “Gore Vidal:The United States of Amnesia” just opening today in NY & LA.
Gore Vidal had a tremendous hauteur and great and constant wit. The quotes fly by at a dazzling pace. And it reminds me of what the late great stately homo of England Quentin Crisp once told me when I asked him how I could succeed as a writer.
And in his tiny, smelly bed-sit in London in the ’70s he told me, “To be great to be truly great you must transcend EVERYthing, even your work. How much better to be Wilde than to be “Lady Windemere’s Fan”? How much better to be Coward than to be one of his plays?”
Words I’ve never forgotten, and they certainly can be applied to Gore Vidal. Who was also as gay as all of the men I’ve been discussing.
Crisp was talking, of course, about the cult of personality, and Gore Vidal certainly embodied that. The only books of his I’ve read and own are “Myra Breckenridge” and “Myron.” Both about transexualism. And homosexuality. And Hollywood.
Truman Capote, his contemporary and sometime friend, but most rival, opined, “Poor Gore. He never found his own voice as a writer. Except in ‘Myra Breckenridge’ and by then it was too late.”
“Myra Breckenridge” is mentioned but never really discussed in this film. But Vidal’s homosexuality is. Dashingly handsome as a youth, from a very privileged, political background(Al Gore was a distant cousin),it seems he was born looking down on the world from his lofty,almost patrician perspective. And he didn’t like what he saw.
Hence the title “The United States of Amnesia” which is a quote of his. The documentary is full of Gore’s TV talk show appearances, and it almost seemed that this was his great metier.
“I never miss an opportunity to have sex or appear on television,” is a quote that pretty nearly defined him. He seems at time like a wit machine spewing forth an endless stream of bon mots. The sound-bite was him.
His personality, as Quentin Crisp framed it, was his greatest lasting contribution to humanity, and this documentary certainly exalts in it.
He lived for many years with a male companion, who predeceased him by eight years. They shared a mansion overlooking the Mediterranean in Ravello, Italy, but Vidal claims they never had sex, and were “just friends.” Sad.
He was a great defender of homosexual promiscuity, and of course, gay rights. He wrote the first major best-selling novel about it called “The City and the Pillar” and he also wrote I play I greatly admired “The Best Man” which is revived and revived, and the screenplay for the classic movie “Ben-Hur.”
I’ve not read his political novels. Maybe someday I will. People say “Burr” was the best of them.
But I don’t know that any of them can hold a candle to this great documentary which truly throws as complete light on a great, great gay man. I’ve watched it four times! And will probably watch it some more!