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‘Painters Painting’: The definitive documentary on the New York Art Scene 1940-70
07:29 pm

Jasper Johns’ ‘Three Flags,’ 1958
Painters Painting is a definitive documentary history of the New York Art Scene 1940-1970. Directed by Emile de Antonio, the film focuses on American art movements from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art. De Antonio was a Marxist film-maker who was once described as “…the most important political filmmaker in the United States during the Cold War.”

In the 1960s and 1970s, De Antonio established his reputation with a series of political documentaries including Point of Order (1964) on the Senate Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954; Rush to Judgment 91967) investigating the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination; Millhouse: A White Comedy (1971) which followed Richard Nixon’s political career; and as co-director, Underground (1976) on the Weathermen.

De Antonio claimed he was able to make Painters Painting (1972) as he knew all of the artists involved:

“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 [make this film].”

His close relationship with these artists allowed some incredibly candid interviews from the likes of Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Helen Frankenthaler, Frank Stella, Barnett Newman, Hans Hofmann, Jules Olitski, Philip Pavia, Larry Poons, Robert Motherwell, and Kenneth Noland. Though, as ever, Andy Warhol deflected questions, claiming Brigid Berlin painted his pictures—though he had previously claimed everything he knew about painting he had learned from “De.”

With thanks to Christopher Mooney!

Posted by Paul Gallagher
07:29 pm
The Weather Underground documentary from 1976

Directed by Emile de Antonio, Haskell Wexler and Mary Lampson, Underground (1976) tells the story of radical activists the Weathermen via interviews and news footage of the civil rights and anti-war protests of the 1960s and 70s.

De Antonio reports that he had little difficulty contacting the radicals-in-hiding. Along with cameraman Haskell Wexler and editor Mary Lampson, he filmed the interview in a California safe house, avoiding his subjects’ faces by filming them through sheets and from behind. One camera angle used by De Antonio became a hot topic of discussion among film students. The Weathermen and women are filmed through a mirror. We see De Antonio, Lampson and Wexler with his camera staring right at us, but only the backs of the subjects’ heads. The angle states exactly how the film was made and acknowledges the presence of a camera at all times. What’s more, it suggests that the filmmakers are an active part of the testimony, and not separate from it. To some the shot suggests solidarity with the Weathermen. Others see it as a challenge to the F.B.I.: we’re exercising our First Amendment rights and we’re not hiding from anybody.”

De Antonio, Wexler and Lampson were subpoenaed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in an effort to locate the Weathermen. The film was pulled from circulation.

The three, all prominent within the Hollywood community, hired the best lawyers that they could find, and with the support of other filmmakers and actors, including Elia Kazan, Shirley MacLaine, Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty, were able to get the subpoenas repealed . The three were able to use their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, as well as the rights of journalistic integrity which allow for confidentiality of sources.

The Weather Underground were a divisive force within the anti-war movement. Their violent approach to protest, which included bombing symbols of the corporate war machine, was reviled by pacifists who felt their tactics were just a mirror image of the forces the peace movement was railing against. But despite their lack of support, The Weather Underground managed to shake up the system without anyone getting killed but themselves. Three Weathermen died when a nailbomb blew up in a townhouse on 11th street in Manhattan in 1970.


Posted by Marc Campbell
04:58 pm