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Emile de Antonio

Radical Filmmaker in Cold War America

Randolph Lewis

Publication Year: 2000

    Emile de Antonio (1919–1989) was the most important political filmmaker in the United States during the Cold War. Director of such controversial films as Point of Order (1963), In the Year of the Pig (1969), Millhouse: A White Comedy (1971), and Mr. Hoover and I (1989), de Antonio lived a remarkable life in dissent.
    De Antonio was a womanizing raconteur, upper-class Marxist, Harvard classmate of John F. Kennedy, World War II bomber pilot, and failed English professor, who lived a colorful life even before he stumbled headfirst into the New York art world of the 1950s. "Everything I learned about painting, I learned from De," Andy Warhol said about his friend, who famously drank himself unconscious in Warhol’s film Drink. De Antonio also was important to the early careers of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenburg, and John Cage. Then, in 1959, de Antonio took on the chance to distribute the Beat film, Pull My Daisy, and discovered filmmaking.
    In the first book on de Antonio’s life and work, Randolph Lewis traces the turbulent development of the filmmaker’s career. Lewis follows de Antonio’s struggle to make films about Joseph McCarthy, Richard Nixon, and J. Edgar Hoover (under whose direction the FBI compiled a 10,000-page file on de Antonio) and to work with such political allies as Mark Lane, Martin Sheen, Bertrand Russell, Daniel Berrigan, and members of the Weather Underground, whose activities he documented in the film Underground. Blending biography with critical insights about art, literature, and film, Lewis offers de Antonio as a lens to focus on the complex terrain of post-World War II America.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi

Writing this book has been a long process, and I have incurred many debts of gratitude, beginning with the professors with whom I worked in the American Studies Department at the University of Texas at Austin. Doug Kellner encouraged this project when it was little more than an idea. Now the first holder...

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pp. 3-9

From McCarthyism to modern art, Vietnam to the checkered career of Richard Nixon, Emile de Antonio (1919– 1989) brought his passion and intelligence to bear on some of the most difficult issues in postwar America. During the last...

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1 Life Before Film

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pp. 10-28

“All Americans are underground men because we dig for roots,” Emile de Antonio said in the late seventies. “There are none of course. They were severed in transit.” De Antonio could trace his own roots to the soil of northern Italy, where his grandfather had lived a century before.1Tall and handsome with “an...

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2 Point of Order!

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pp. 29-47

In the spring of 1954 the American public was witness to a bizarre political spectacle. At the height of his communisthunting activities, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy had accused Secretary of theArmyRobertT. Stevens of harboring officers with subversive tendencies. The army responded with an accusation...

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3 Rush to Judgment

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pp. 48-75

“Oh, De, Jack Kennedy’s been shot,” said Andy Warhol on the telephone. De Antonio was sitting in Jasper Johns’s apartment, recuperating after knee surgery and not in the mood for practical jokes. He muttered something uncomplimentary into the phone and hung up. Just in case, though, he hobbled over to the radio—Johns’s...

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4 Vietnam

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pp. 76-112

Even before he completed Rush to Judgment, de Antonio was filling notebooks and boxes with research notes that would sustain him through a year of shooting with 35mm color film in dozens of locations across the continental United States. In 1966...

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5 The Incursion into Richard Milhous Nixon

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pp. 113-154

In 1970 de Antonio was working at his office in the Movielab building in New York City with his editor, Mary Lampson, and staff members Marc Weiss, Tanya Neufeld, and Nancy Ogden. The project at hand was the editing of Painters Painting, de Antonio’s film about the major figures of American art at...

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6 Art, Politics, and Painters Painting

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pp. 155-180

After being a minor player in theNewYork art world for almost two decades, de Antonio decided to make it the subject of his next film, after America Is Hard to See.1 The decision came as something of a surprise, if not a disappointment, to those who expected him to continue exploring the pressing political issues of the...

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7 Underground

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pp. 181-211

Between swims in the cold ocean waters of the Atlantic coast in the summer of 1974, de Antonio sat on the beach holding a red-covered book: Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism: Political Statement of the Weather Underground.1 The thin volume with the long title had been published in secret a few months earlier. Though the mainstream media

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8 Films of the Eighties

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pp. 212-234

King of Prussia is the unusual name of a small city in eastern Pennsylvania. With its evocations of eighteenth-century military conquest, the name might seem ill suited to the calm and prosperous town, if not for the presence of a nondescript...

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pp. 235-246

.In this book I have used the phrase “America is hard to see” to describe the difficulty of making films about such a sprawling subject, one that has forced filmmakers into the clichés that have earned the scorn of professional historians. But Emile de Antonio took an unusual approach to the past in his literate...


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pp. 247-308

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 309-328


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pp. 329-332


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pp. 333-338

E-ISBN-13: 9780299169138
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299169145

Publication Year: 2000