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Established 1995 filmfestivals.com serves and documents relentless the festivals community, offering 92.000 articles of news, free blog profiles and functions to enable festival matchmaking with filmmakers.

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Exclusive Interview: with Gore Vidal

Exclusive Interview: Gore Vidal, Friend of the Country, Champions THE ENEMY OF THE SMILE

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

On Pearl Harbor Day, literary lion Gore Vidal, 85, allowed a rare exclusive interview at the offices of Dr. Hessam Nowzari, DDS, PhD, in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Vidal made himself available to discuss Dr. Nowzari's documentary THE ENEMY OF THE SMILE that "addresses the serious global dental health issue of early-in-life oral infection" (the bacterium known as AA, according to Nowzari), as well as his recent missive to US President Barack Obama regarding rapprochement with Iran.

While the text of Gore Vidal's letter is included at the end of this interview, the subtext is far more complex. Dr. Nowzari, who is Persian, has tapped the elder statesman as a spokesman for ENEMY because "no one else in the world can raise awareness like Gore Vidal."

"We are doing a broadcast interview with Mr. Vidal today that will be beamed into Tehran. It is the second such interview, because the response to the first one was overwhelming," Nowzari said. "His book 'Creation' and another book on Iran, the Holy Land, have become bestsellers there."

Gore Vidal came on board as an advocate for the project because he believes Dr. Nowzari has found an inexpensive hands-on non-pharmaceutical solution to the problem. "The drug companies want to charge for everything, and expensive too. He is the only scientist that has proved there is a cure."

ENEMY presents a simple effective saline treatment for a 5000 year old bacterial infection, Nowzari explains. "This movie describes the impact of a disease that destroys a child's smile and, consequently, the emotional and psychological lives. It strives to achieve broad attention by including reference to children in countries around the world."

Widespread in China, Malaysia, Singapore, Israel, and Iran -- invigorated by unstable conditions created by the protracted Iran-Iraq conflict -- the AA bacterium is a "worldwide epidemic."

While some may view theirs as a strange partnership, two men worlds apart in terms of culture and experience, the logic is clear.

For Iran-born Nowzari, his role "with my USC colleagues" was to publish "an article that documents evidence of the condition world-wide in children of low-income, as well as more affluent countries including USA, Israel and China." The article became the basis for ENEMY.

For Vidal, one of the world's greatest essayists as well as a novelist, screenwriter, and memoirist, raising awareness for the plight of millions of people is second nature and dovetails with his long history of political involvement.

When the day of the interview arrives, Gore Vidal is wheeled into Dr. Hessam Nowzari's private plush Beverly Hills offices by his private nurse Ernie. Nowzari's colleague Dr. Eric Cho, quietly removes an extra chair to make room for the wheelchair.

There is an atmosphere of utmost respect for Mr. Vidal, who has known every US President since his intimate days in the White House during the Kennedy Administration.

His letter to President Obama is dated Nov. 30, a week to the day from this event, and is still fresh in his mind. Gore Vidal's cordial note to Obama includes references to Persian King Darius, Cyrus, and tellingly harks back to a time before any current religious or political regimes now in place.

The ease with which Vidal invokes historical figures is almost a reflex. He has written not only the American Chronicles, running down the bones of US government and its politicos, but is a noted scholar on the history of Roman culture and world religions.

His most recent work "Palimpsest," which refers to manuscript sheaves that are written and effaced, worked and reworked, provided one of the leading literary tongue tortures for newsrooms upon its publication.

Gore Vidal, who still actively writes and is working with a biographer on a personal documentary, even seems to be safekeeping new information about breaching the long-stand-off between diametrically opposed regimes (read: US, Middle East).

Arriving in a SIMPSONS leather jacket replete with Bart Simpson and characters from the FOX series embroidered onto the sleeves, Mr. Vidal is a far cry from a general flying epaulettes. But he is nonetheless armed with verbal weapons of considerable destruction.

A sneer is worth a thousand words -- yet today he is on his best behavior, having survived another birthday last month and looking forward to this encounter.

"Angel, you're gassing away like a journalist," he will jibe midway through. But the upper cuts from the upper crust have an Algonquin ring to them, and it is clearly an honor to be gored by Vidal.

Here is Gore Vidal on politics, Presidents, and periodontics:

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: I've seen the letter you wrote recently to President Obama, do you think he will "get" it?

GORE VIDAL: He's smart, don't worry about that. The entire right wing in this country in America wants a war with Iran. They want the Israelis to bomb and kill everybody. Obama isn't like that, but he certainly can't go against them. He's a politician after all.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: You've said that most US Presidents have to live with about 30 corporations that are in power. Has that number increased? Is this where the pressure is coming from, the back rooms?

GORE VIDAL: No, I think it is misunderstanding the verb, live: you don't have to "live" with them. You can dominate them. I watched Jack Kennedy do that, and he wasn't even a powerful President; he was a powerful personality. He was not going to take any nonsense from anybody.
I remember he told me, after I asked 'what is it like to be President?' He said 'Well, I've heard of all of these famous people all my life, and I've met all of them by now. And there is not one with enough intelligence to come in out of the rain.' He thought they were awful people.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: Jack did? And he was a "C" student at Harvard, right?

GORE VIDAL: Anybody who rates anything by their grades in school, that is maniacal. I flunked English all the way through Exeter. Because I was the only one who would write, and they didn't like that.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: You've mentioned that President Lincoln was in control of his generals and that he had the "Lincoln chill." And I think there was a point where you suggested that Obama should take a hard line -- and he just got back from Afghanistan --

GORE VIDAL: I don't know what line he should take because I don't know what cards he's been dealt. I have no way of gauging it. I tell you what Lincoln did, he knew he had some of the goddamn-est bad generals anyone ever had. And if he didn't get busy he was going to be impeached.
If I were Congress, I would tell the President, if they really don't like what he is doing, to report on Saturday. There is a special committee being called.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: You know today he had a press conference. What are your views on our being in Afghanistan?

GORE VIDAL: It's ridiculous. General Washington observed as he was leaving office, relieved to be as he was of this ghastly country: "Nations should never have friends or enemies, they have only interests."
I would think a child of four could understand that, but not (all) Americans.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: Speaking of raising awareness, Dr. Hessam Nowzari says that you are working to raise awareness about the issues involved in THE ENEMY OF THE SMILE, which addresses a problem that is a little more manageable than world politics. Regarding the bacteria, AA, I guess?
He said you were fascinated that Hatshepsut (1503-1482 BC) died from it.

GORE VIDAL: Hatshepsut, the great Egyptian Queen, had it, this (oral bacteria). I can't imagine Hatshepsut kissed all of her lovers. Because she only had one who was crazy about her, who was an architect. He painted his own picture on the back of the door to the funerary tomb in the Valley of the Kings where she got herself put.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: Was she the only Egyptian female Pharaoh, I'm forgetting, I mean there was Nefertiti.

GORE VIDAL: She was a wife. But Hatshepsut was the Queen of Upper and Lower Egypt.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: How old was she when she died?

HESSAM NOWZARI: She was only 49, very young. She had an abscess. We have a CAT scan of her skull. Clearly, you can see that she was affected by the AA bacteria, there is no way to reject it --

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: To refute it?

HESSAM NOWZARI: Absolutely. You can see her CAT scan in the film. I know it is very interesting.
They found a tooth very close to her body, and they thought it was from a thief, because thieves have raided these tombs all through the centuries.
But that tooth fits exactly, in the socket, in her mouth. It was a molar.

GORE VIDAL: That's what happened to mine!

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: Dr. Nowzari is doing restoration on you too. But tying back to Obama's letter you invoke Darius and other Persian great kings.

GOREA VIDAL: They were great kings.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: In other words there is a sense of unity going back before 600 AD, was that your intent?

GORE VIDAL: I've got so many points to make. Isn't it clear we have our first black president? Which is madness for most Americans -- in addition to (terrorism). Saying 'How do we deal with a country we have nailed, that wants to blow us up? How can they do anything so unpleasant?'
Well we are a nasty country, and nobody likes us, but nobody would ever dare tell us.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: But we are so multi-cultural as a country.

GORE VIDAL: That's an exaggeration. If we had one culture, you could add another one or two. But we don't have one, so...

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: I'm just talking about the demographics in the US, from where we stood (in the 60's and 70's).

GORE VIDAL: I don't believe a word of it. How much clout do you think (minority) Americans have? Here's one behind me.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: In your past letters to the Presidents, what kind of responses have you had?

GORE VIDAL: I have written to them, yes, in the past.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: Has Obama come back with response yet?

GORE VIDAL: No. He'll be teased till he dies by me. He is in a weak position, I am not.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: When he first came into office, you must have been shocked not only by the turn of the election, but the Nobel Peace Prize he received?

GORE VIDAL: I'm always surprised by (Nobel's selections) because I am up for it all the time. And then something mysterious happens. They always put me up -- not for literature, god forbid they should read a book -- but for the Peace Prize.
Before Bush began his attacks on the Middle East, blowing up countries and so forth, I went to Oslo, at my own expense. The town hall of the city. There's the most beautiful throne there that you have ever seen.
If you are there before eight o'clock -- which is nice when you are living in a democracy, which is something we never experienced -- and the (King of Sweden) has not arrived, you can sit in his chair.
So I went in, sat in the chair of the king -- and the king never came.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: That's a good story. Getting back to the film you are championing about the bacteria, Hessam said there might also be a fictionalized version, a feature film project?

GORE VIDAL: It's a possibility.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: Is there also a remake being done of MYRA BRECKINRIDGE?

GORE VIDAL: I hope not. I never saw the original, and I don't want to see any more.
Now that you are looking back down memory lane, I should tell you that "The Best Man" is going to be revived on Broadway for the fourth time -- for the (next) election.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: I think you were, at the time of the first production around 1960, on the cover of one of the New York newspapers, I think a version of the NY Daily News with Jack Kennedy backstage shaking hands.

GORE VIDAL: You are an expert on trivia. I can't remember; Jack certainly doesn't remember -- he can't. Why should I remember?

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: Because it is a great photo.

GORE VIDAL: Well, you certainly are a master of trivia.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: When you look back now, Jack Kennedy is gone, Bobby, Jackie, even Teddy -- how do you feel about the myths that have sprung up?

GORE VIDAL: I'm not interested in PR. That's all public relations.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: But there is that flame at the Kennedy library, that has been made into an eternal flame --

GORE VIDAL: All right. It'll burn down the house one day. They could cook something with it -- make a barbeque out of it.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: You've said Jack was charming, but not a good president, that is a bold statement on the one hand -- but he was only eight years older than you were, and you were the same age as Bobby, isn't that right?

GORE VIDAL: Yes. And I was smarter than either. Which isn't saying much.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: You stayed alive.

GORE VIDAL: Which isn't much.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: As far as your sojourn in Hollywood, I believe you wrote BEN-HUR, part of that script.

GORE VIDAL: I did write it. This is a crooked town, Hollywood. They hated me because I was a famous writer -- a famous writer from New York, the East Coast.
So, when it came time for the credits, one of the local writers who had been an officer at the (then) Writer's Guild said 'I wrote it. I wrote it all myself. I mailed myself a carbon copy. The script they used was all mine.'
It's insanity.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: Was the credit ever restored?

GORE VIDAL: I didn't want it. But I didn't ever want to have it stolen. That's the difference.
I said 'this is the worst form of commercialism.' Trust somebody at the guild not to know what commercialism is. I said 'commercialism is to do well that which should not be done at all.'

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: It's called a blockbuster.

GORE VIDAL: It's easy to write a blockbuster, as I have proved.

30 November 2010


President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500



Dear Mr. President,

I was recently reminded of the letter that I wrote to you when you were first nominated by our party to run for president. At that time, as the echoes of your Republican counterpart’s battle cry haunted me like tinnitus, I recalled my book, Creation, about the Great King Darius. I thought then and continue to believe it would be good politics in the truest sense for you to meet with the Parsi leaders of what used to be called the Persian Empire; strike a note of solidarity with them, one empire with another. Meet them at the Great King’s tomb at Pasargadae, establish a union between the Persian population and the American. I brought up this subject not weeks ago in an interview on Pars satellite television, beamed to millions across present-day Iran, to the seeming delight of the local hosts: we need not always be alone on the lonely planet.

I can only see good coming from your leading in this fashion: bring together the heirs of the Great King that are still considered great in that part of the world.

Best wishes to you, Sir. And as a Washingtonian may I say, not surprisingly, that I do delight in your presidency.


Sincerely yours,



Gore Vidal

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