Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

Directed by Nicholas Wrathall (2013)

Film Review

This film is dedicated to the memory of US dissident and iconoclast Gore Vidal, who died at 87 in 2012. Born to privilege, Vidal was one of the few Eastern- Washington DC elite to turn against his class. His maternal great-grandfather Thomas Pryor Gore was a long serving US Senator and his mother married into the Auchincloss* family, resulting in close ties to the Kennedy family.

Vidal spent three years in the Pacific during World War II before being invalided out for rheumatoid arthritis. He published his first novel at 19.

After Vidal was blackballed by the mainstream media (the New York Times and Washington Post refused to review his books) for publishing the first American novel explaining the mechanics of gay sex, he moved to Hollywood to write TV and movie scripts. He would receive a thank you letter from Alfred Kinsey, who also worked to demystify homosexual in his bestselling Kinsey Reports in the 1950s.

Vidal counted Paul and Joanne Newman, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, and Eleanor Roosevelt (she worked for his Congressional campaign in the 1960s) among his friend. He spent most of his life in Italy until the death of his lifelong companion Howard Austen. Too disabled to live on his own, Vidal returned to the US.

Most of Vidal’s novels concern the deep US government corruption that dates back to the founding fathers. His seven-book series Narratives of Empire exposes much hidden history surrounding the first 250 years of US empire building.

Although the series ends with Franklin D Roosevelt (who Vidal believes was complicit in the Pearl Harbor bombing), he has been equally critical of presidents who succeeded FDR. In the film he blasts Truman, Kennedy, Carter, Reagan, and George W Bush:

  • Truman – for being the first US president to (unconstitutionally) launch a universal draft in peacetime.
  • Kennedy – for his belligerent foreign policy (Vidal disputes claims by assassination scholars that JFK intended to withdraw US troops from Vietnam) and his failure to use his popularity to champion genuine domestic reform.
  • Reagan for being a mindless puppet of the corporate elite.
  • Bush Jr – for stealing the presidency in 2000 and 2004* and for launching illegal and unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

My favorite parts of the film relate to Vidal’s friendship with the last Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev.

*Vidal’s mother was Hugh D Auchincloss’s second wife and Janet Lee Bouvier (Jackie Kennedy’s mother) his third.

**Vidal refers to the book What Went Wrong in Ohio by Congressman John Conyers on Ohio voting irregularities in the 2004 election. The New York Times and other major media outlets refuse to review the book.