Dean Clough

January 13, 2023

Portico Darwin: At The Movies


4 Minute Read
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It's the weekend, so maybe you're looking for movie ideas.  Yes, I'm going all Siskel & Ebert on you.

For you kids out there, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were among the kingmakers of the movie industry.  These gifted dweebs were influencers before the term existed; a "Thumbs Up" meant a film likely made money, while a "Thumbs Down" meant you might not work in the movies again.  Oh, to have that kind of clout! 

But to hell with thumbs - I've got my own (and superior) rating system.

Let's put it to use.  I am presenting the films Best Of Enemies and The Menu for your consideration. 

OK, the former came out in 2015, but The Menu is new, and regardless:  no one can say I'm not offering up variety.  In fact, I doubt you could find two more different movies, and both are Killer. 

My apologies if either movie is old news to you.  Of course, you could always go outside or volunteer at a food bank instead of reading this. 

Best Of Enemies
Of the two, I'd be more surprised if you've heard of this one, despite its age.  It's a documentary, and it does a bang-up job showing the birth of our toxic discourse as a nation.  Don't believe me?  Watch the film.

You see, in 1968, upstart and 3rd place (out of 3) TV network ABC needed something to stand out from the traditional, starched-shirt coverage of the Presidential Conventions being offered up by CBS and NBC.  So they hatched the idea to have a conservative intellectual, William F. Buckley, debate - live - a liberal one, Gore Vidal, throughout both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

To say these guys were polar opposites doesn't even come close to describing their differences. 

Buckley, a Textbook privileged white man if there ever was one, reeked of yacht clubs, the Beltway, and the Upper East Side, all at once.  Worse, the roots of Reaganism, and thus the beginning of the end of America, can be traced directly to the gardening of this man, the founder and first editor of the conservative house organ National Review in 1955.  Indeed, he was the standard-bearer for intellectual (and otherwise) conservativism and libertarianism in this country for decades.  For better or worse. 

Vidal?  If one wanted an archetype for a liberal elite intellectual, it would have to be Gore Vidal.  Brilliant, gay at a time when not hiding it wasn't cool, and cosmopolitan to a fault, he was also deeply involved in politics, twice running for Congress and twice losing.  But it was as an author for which Vidal won his highest accolades:  his seven volume historical fiction series Narratives of Empire is rightly famous.  Like Buckley, no one could say Vidal was shy about sharing his opinions.  Nor his arrogance or pomposity or even erudition. 

In other words, a role model.
Frankly, I'm not sure if you could have found two people more likely to get incendiary, live TV be damned.  The film covers 10 of their debate sessions, and the vitriol and shared animus is clear from the outset and obviously real.  The high- and lowlights are all here, in vivid black and white.

Remember, back then, people just didn't behave this way on TV.  They just didn't, and I'm not only talking about Buckley calling Vidal a "queer" on live TV (after Vidal deemed Buckley a "crypto fascist") during their final debate. 

In the end, it's somewhat alarming to see this much ugliness, this long ago.  But seeing the segments adds depth to the understanding of where things like Tucker Carlson came from, so I believe that makes it important viewing and also an origin story.  Highly recommended.  We rented it on Amazon Prime Video.

(The hubbub from their last dust-up caused such a stir that each penned an essay about the experience for Esquire magazine.  For your rabbit hole diving pleasure, here is  On Experiencing Gore Vidal | Esquire | August 1969 and A Distasteful Encounter with William F. Buckley Jr. | Esquire | September 1969)

The Menu
Now for something completely different.  And I do mean completely, and not just because The Menu is wild fiction vs. the wild fact of Enemies.  It's from this century and almost from this year, even:  it was released in late 2022 in theaters.  But it also recently came to HBO, which is where we saw it earlier this week.

Let me start by saying this:  Wow.

The premise is somewhat like The White Lotus in terms of an ensemble cast playing well-heeled guests at a place of highly refined hospitality, in this case a 3 Michelin Star, Diamond Certified private restaurant, on an equally private island.  As such, and as on White Lotus, the guests stroll to the venue after arriving via private yacht.

That, as they say, is where the similarities end.  Between this film and The White Lotus, or really anything else I've seen in a long, long time.  Julie maybe came closest when she likened it to Pulp Fiction.  While not the masterpiece that is, it's excellent and certainly cut from the same cloth.  It is a black comedy.  It is a thriller of the highest order.  It is social satire, also of the highest order.  And heck, at its core, it's a horror movie.

In fact, the thriller and horror aspects are something that are unique and also something I don't want to spoil for you.  So I'm not going to say much more (shocker) except that if you enjoy fine dining in fine settings and think seeing an indictment of elites and elitism in all its guises might be fun, this film is for you.  It stars Ralph Fiennes - certainly due an Oscar nomination for his work here - and the ensemble cast, full of faces familiar and not so much, all mostly nail it, too. 

So, like Best Of Enemies, this one is highly recommended and as above, we saw it on HBO at home, but it's also still in theaters. 

Have a great weekend.


Our correspondents span the globe to keep a finger on the pulse of the world at large.  It's true and if you don't believe me, check out this video filed on YouTube by our erstwhile reporter in Southeast Asia (at least for the next 2 months or so), Arthur.  He shot the video himself in Mrs. Crup's hometown, a village of about 900 people in Thailand.

Pretty impressive for a backyard party! 

House Party

OMFG, I'll say!  Of the 3 videos featured today, this may be the most amazing.  But I thought it was only white men that can't dance?  Those Thai guys need some new steps . . .

And our global coverage isn't just about fun and games and jungle raves. 

I shared a recent article from The Economist on the current scene in Chicago with community pillar Steven Simon, a resident there for decades.  He was concise and also correct. 

Interesting article.  So many articles seem to be negative, but I can tell the city is thriving.  The combination of a diverse economy, world-class education and relative wealth equality (compared to NY/SF) keep this city affordable and strong. 

That said, crime is up in the wealthier neighborhoods and combating that will help the image.  But it's true that we need long-term visionaries and not crisis-solvers in the mayor's office. 

Obviously, those of us in SF can relate to "so many articles seem to be negative".  But also "crime . . . in the wealthier neighborhoods":  we just had our bike and picnic wagon stolen from our garage this week.

But as Steven I'm sure would agree:  I wouldn't give up city living for one minute.  People counting out places like Chicago and SF don't understand great cities. 

Thank you to any one that is reading this, newsletter.


RIP, Jeff Beck, an original guitar hero, and a Diamond Certified player.  He died this week at the age of 78 years old.

Here is a short, 7 song playlist from what I consider his mid-1970s heyday.  While Miles Davis may have invented fusion with his genius In a Silent Way, Mr. Beck wasn't far behind.
Fun Fact:  Beck, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page all got their careers started in The Yardbirds in the 1960s. 

About Dean Clough