Painters Painting: The Definitive Documentary Portrait of the New York Art World (1940–1970)

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:
Watch Por­trait of an Artist: Jack­son Pol­lock, the 1987 Doc­u­men­tary Nar­rat­ed by Melvyn Bragg

635 Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, etc.

Rauschen­berg Eras­es De Koon­ing

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.

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