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Gore Vidal's pointed witticisms fly again

If you're starved for the kind of piercing wit rarely exhibited by today's movie heroes and villains, the archival company offered up in the documentary "Gore Vidal: United States of Amnesia" is wholly satisfying.

For decades until his death two years ago as a leading "thorn in the American establishment," essayist-storyteller-pundit-provocateur Vidal gave public intellectualism a sweetly savory good name, as Nicholas Wrathall's brisk collection of epigram-laced interviews with Vidal and his admirers attests. And when footage won't do, other choice quotes — "I'm a born-again atheist" — appear in big block letters.

Needless to say, so much of Vidal on Vidal is hardly an objective experience, but it's an enlightening glimpse at a well-observed education in deep liberalism (as an FDR-era Senate page), political distrust (as a Kennedy family confidant), camera-ready intelligence (as a talk show regular) and psychologically astute creativity (as an alternative-history novelist).

Vidal's robust mind was forged in a distaste for class warfare and empire-building that remains as trenchant today as when he routinely slapped around the powerful and privileged — most famously conservative icon William F. Buckley in those 1960s debates. Ever mindful of the line he straddled between thinker and flamethrower, this "Gore Vidal" is nevertheless a lovingly packaged greatest hits from a legendary rebel of letters.

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'Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia'

MPAA rating: None.

Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes.

Playing: At Landmark's Nuart, Los Angeles.

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