Emile de Antonio, Radical Filmmaker

On Film / The Daily — Apr 26, 2018
In the Year of the Pig (1968)

With the fiftieth anniversary of the May ’68 upheaval weighing so heavily on the cultural hive mind at the moment, now’s the perfect time for a retrospective of work by the radical director and producer of documentaries, Emile de Antonio. The Metrograph’s is on through Monday, and at the New York theater’s site, David Fresko looks back on “a series of double bills that would link his films with their fictional counterparts” that de Antonio dreamed up for a 1974 survey of his work. America Is Hard to See (1970), for example, “de Antonio’s chronicle of Senator Eugene McCarthy’s bid for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination, was to be shown alongside Michael Ritchie’s political satire The Candidate (1972).” Millhouse: A White Comedy (1971), about Richard Nixon, would be paired with Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). And so on.

De Antonio’s films “are unashamedly oppositional, formally inventive, and stubbornly class-conscious,” writes Ed Halter for 4Columns. “Beyond his own directorial output, ‘De’ (as he was known to friends) helped jumpstart American independent filmmaking as one of the founding members of the New American Cinema Group in the early 1960s, alongside Jonas Mekas, Shirley Clarke, and others. He was also a prominent mover in the burgeoning art world, a member of circles that included John Cage, Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol; exposure to their methods, he claimed, would shape his approach to filmmaking. De Antonio’s encounters with Cage, for example, inspired his first film, Point of Order!, a cunning found-footage recitation of the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings.”

The Metrograph series naturally includes In the Year of the Pig (1968), “a sober-minded, meticulously structured series of interviews and archival footage explaining the Vietnam War up to the point of its making from, primarily, the Vietnamese perspective,” as Vadim Rizov writes for Filmmaker. “This is still illuminating and enlightening, even as the interview segments—now completely periodized—lean into a very particular type of cadence and public speaking that doesn’t exist anymore.”

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