Emile de Antonio is one of those people who simply had a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He was a Harvard classmate of John F. Kennedy. He knew all of the core members of the Beat movement, even helping to distribute the seminal Beat movie Pull My Daisies. And De Antonio was a friend with virtually everyone in the New York art scene from Jasper Johns to Willem de Kooning. He once drank himself into a stupor for Andy Warhol’s experimental movie Drink. Warhol even famously praised De Antonio saying, “Everything I learned about painting, I learned from De.”
De Antonio was also a major voice of dissent during the Cold War. He directed a series of scathing documentaries including Point of Order (1964), about the McCarthy hearings; Rush to Judgment (1966), a staple among JFK assassination theorists; and the Oscar-nominated anti-Vietnam war movie In the Year of the Pig. (1968)
For his 1972 movie Painters Painting: The New York Art Scene 1940-1970, De Antonio managed to get artists like Warhol, Johns, and De Kooning along with Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, Barnett Newman and Helen Frankenthaler to talk about their craft. It is the definitive documentary portrait of the New York art world.
De Antonio talked about Painters Painting in a 1988 interview:
I was probably the only filmmaker in the world who could [have made Painters Painting] because I knew all those people, from the time that they were poor, and unsuccessful and had no money. I knew Warhol and Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and Stella before they ever sold a painting, and so it was interesting to [do the film about them]. They appeared in the film along with De Kooning, whom I knew very well, and Barnett Newman, who is now dead. They talked to me in a way that they would never have talked to anybody else because they knew I knew the subject.
The film, a tad grainy, appears above. A higher res version of the film can "rented" on Amazon. Amazon Prime member can watch it for free.
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.