Cast & Crew
Emile De Antonio
Emile De Antonio
Lyn Zee Klingman
This compilation of news footage from varied sources and filmed interviews traces French involvement in Vietnam from the 1940's through the fall of Dien Bien Phu, and American support from the period of the domino theory in the 1950's to all-out American intervention in the 1960's. Included are the words of such journalists, scholars, and statesmen as David Halberstam, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Jean Lacouture, Paul Mus, Oliver Todd, Harrison Salisbury, David Wurfel, Roger Hilsman, and Daniel Berrigan, most of whom opposed American involvement in Southeast Asia; but the film concentrates more on the hawks, whose attitudes generally prevailed in the early days of the war. Appearing in this footage are Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson; Vice President Richard M. Nixon; Senators Wayne Morse, Thruston Morton, and Joseph McCarthy; Rep. Gerald Ford; Generals Mark Clark, Curtis LeMay, Maxwell Taylor, and William Westmoreland; Col. George Patton III; former Ambassador to Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge; Secretaries of State Dean Rusk and John Foster Dulles; United Nations Secretary-General U Thant; former Special Forces Sgt. John Towler; the State Department's Director of Vietnamese Affairs, Charlton Ogburn; ex-president of the Executive Committee of the Friends of Vietnam, Joseph Buttinger; and former member of the Expeditionary Corps in Indochina Philippe Devilers. Also featured are Ho Chi Minh, Nguyen Cao Ky, Ngo Dinh Diem, and Mrs. Ngo Dinh Nhu.
Emile De Antonio
Emile De Antonio
Lyn Zee Klingman
John F. Newman
Jean Jacques Rochut
Emile de Antonio: Films of a Radical Saint - A 4-Disc Set of Unconventional Documentaries
Emile de Antonio: Films of a Radical Saint gathers four of De Antonio's later, even more controversial docus. They played in New York and in college towns, when they weren't effectively banned by the government, as De Antonio claims was the case with Millhouse: A White Comedy. All are essential to any serious study of documentary film.
1968's In the Year of the Pig assembles prime news film to tell the story of Vietnam in the 20th century. It was practically the only record available of the historical reality of Southeast Asia at a time when Americans were bombarded daily with rhetoric about Freedom and the Communist threat. Avoiding an imposed narration, De Antonio simply stacks newsreel and archive footage behind some very good interviews with people like Daniel Berrigan and the late David Halberstam. The footage delineates the efforts of French colonialists to retake control of Vietnam after WW2, and with the help of the United States, suppress the country's attempts to re-unite. When America takes the leading role in the late 1950s the news film shows a succession of puppet tyrants placed in power. Advisors become fighting troops and a faked attack in the Gulf of Tonkin is used as the lever to get America fully involved.
De Antonio obviously guides the footage, playing La Marseillaise on Vietnamese instruments as the defeated French quit the country. The show begins with an electronic audio montage of helicopter rotors that may have been the inspiration for the opening of Apocalypse Now. The docu underplays President Kennedy's role in the Vietnam disaster, but the images we see of Eisenhower, Johnson and Nixon are highly unflattering. Much of the footage is surprisingly effective, even forty years later. A witness describes the awful spectacle of a Vietnamese monk immolating himself, and then the highly visible Madame Nhu brazenly states that the monks were paid to burn themselves, incited by foreign influences. It's interesting to see personalities like Gerald Ford making grave pronouncements about developments in Vietnam, while Kennedy-era appointees like Robert McNamara visit the country. Lyndon Johnson's sober pledge for 'no wider war' seems so sincere that we have to wonder what exactly mandated the major combat commitment that began in 1965.
The film shows footage of North Vietnam's defenses and the way its entire population is enlisted in the war effort, which in 1968 was considered by many to be subversive propaganda giving comfort to the enemy. In his commentary De Antonio claims that some theaters attempting to show the film were intimidated by vandalism and death threats.
In the Year of the Pig was heavy-duty campus screening fare in the late 1960s. Emile de Antonio again showed great ingenuity in gaining access to controversial news film. It now plays as priceless found footage, a record of history that would otherwise be lost -- or suppressed. Network news of later decades, such as coverage of the First Gulf War, is now tightly controlled corporate property.
Millhouse: A White Comedy was intended as mirthful character assassination, on the principle that one can't be too unkind to Richard Nixon. De Antonio doesn't need to distort a thing, as a simple collection of news film reveals Nixon to be a consummate dirty politician. Nixon gets elected to the congress by spreading rumors that his opponent Jerry Voorhis is "soft on Communism." He then leaps to the Senate by smearing opponent Helen Gahagan Douglas as a "pinko", distributing her voting record printed on pink paper. Nixon's major career move comes when he turns the investigation of accused spy Alger Hiss into a media event. Millhouse (which purposely misspells Nixon's middle name) resurrected the Vice Presidential candidate's controversial "Checkers" speech, in which he sidestepped accusations of special backing by large companies by offering an absurd and irrelevant "heartfelt" appeal to the American people.
We see Nixon's motorcade attacked by South Americans during a goodwill tour. He gets chummy with puppet rulers in Vietnam and performs his awkward early exit from politics after a failed Californian Gubernatorial bid. His supposed farewell is a near-psychotic speech that finishes with a bitter, "You won't have Nixon to kick around any more." At a 1968 rally, he assures his audience that Hubert Humphrey is really a radical. Elected on the promise to get America out of Vietnam, Nixon instead insists that the U.S. will leave Vietnam only with honor, and the bombs start falling.
Millhouse is a personal attack, undeniably. It begins with the installation of a (really bad) likeness of the President in a wax museum. Pat Nixon stares like a zombie at most public appearances, while the presidential daughters often look unhappy or uncomfortable. Nixon sweats behind microphones and avoids Q&A sessions in favor of a rigged meet-the-voters TV show complete with signs that ask the studio audience to applaud. Bob Hope entertains a political dinner with jokes about homosexuals, and a gyrating go-go dancer makes Nixon uncomfortable by dancing about two feet from his nose. A White House reception uses Marine Corps musicians to provide a brass fanfare more appropriate for the entrance of a Roman Emperor. Finally, as Nixon claims that America has no plans to exploit Vietnam or place permanent military bases there, De Antonio scrolls an endless list of American corporations that have already begun business in Saigon.
Underground, from the Bicentennial year, is a departure from Emile de Antonio's previous works. It uses pieces of older documentaries but focuses mainly on a filmed interview with actual Weather Underground fugitives, public enemies high on the FBI's most wanted list. The nation's law apparatus was unable to locate the SDS splinter group that had carried on a campaign of anti-government bombings in the early 1970s in the hopes of igniting a revolution.
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.
Underground disturbs not because it allows the Weathermen to state their case, but because De Antonio adds his own documentary editorializing that implies approval and collaboration. Actually, the Weather Underground almost single-handedly killed off the legitimate anti-war and anti-government protests of the 1960s. Considering the grief their violent activities caused for their victims and their own cause, the Underground doesn't occupy a very sympathetic page in history. Conservatives still use their example to equate patriotic activism with terrorism. Being daring outlaws in the eyes of America sounds great in a Jefferson Airplane song. But the Weathermen characterize the bombings that killed people as innocent mistakes, evading responsibility just as do the power elite they wish to bring down. Reporting on wanted fugitives is protected free speech, but it is disturbing to see De Antonio flashing friendly smiles at his subjects. Underground comes off as endorsing more than just the Weathermen's idealism. Is the film a grand experiment testing the limits of film journalism, or just plain irresponsible?
De Antonio makes himself the subject of Mr. Hoover and I. The director addresses the camera directly, telling us that J. Edgar Hoover is the most villainous American in history and the renegade leader of an out-of-control secret police force. De Antonio recounts his experience applying for his own F.B.I. record with the Freedom of Information Act. The F.B.I. used bureaucratic dodging to avoid complying with that law. An informant told De Antonio that his sensitive files were surreptitiously placed with those of one of the Weathermen, to keep him from accessing them. One letter that Hoover didn't want released requests that, in the case of a "national emergency", Emile de Antonio be considered for "custodial detention" -- an evasive euphemism for imprisonment in a concentration camp.
We see De Antonio at a campus speaking engagement, talking with John Cage while the musician bakes bread, and getting his hair cut by his wife. It's here that De Antonio proudly calls himself a Communist and a radical, and says that he loves his country and simply wants to make it better, as opposed to politicians who want careers. He talks about his movies going unseen because of threats (vandals painted the word "Traitor" on a screen in California) and feels that the Nixon administration saw to it that corporate-owned theaters wouldn't play Millhouse. He also comes off as something of a conspiracy buff in regards to the JFK assassination, in reference to his film Rush to Judgment. Like Underground, Mr Hoover and I ends with a simple statement of political idealism. The director is a sincere and likeable speaker, but we can't help but feel that his earlier documentaries using mostly unaltered historical footage are much more persuasive.
Distributed by Image, Home Vision's four-disc DVD set of Emile de Antonio: Films of a Radical Saint is a welcome release. All four features are transferred in fine condition, and the only time that the quality drops is in the poorest of the kinescope sources. Just the same, the infamous Checkers speech (included uncut separately) is the best I've seen it on film or video. In the Year of the Pig has a full director commentary and a vintage TV interview with De Antonio. Millhouse carries the Checkers speech and an excellent interview from a TV show called Alternative Views. Underground has an even more interesting Alternative Views interview. An insert booklet contains fine essays by Dan Streible, Jonathan Kahana. Jonathan Rosenbaum offers a spirited defense of Mr. Hoover and I.
For more information about Emile de Antonio: Films of a Radical Saint, visit Image Entertainment. To order Emile de Antonio: Films of a Radical Saint, go to TCM Shopping
by Glenn Erickson
Emile de Antonio: Films of a Radical Saint - A 4-Disc Set of Unconventional Documentaries
In the Year of the Pig/Point of Order - Two Documentaries by Emile de Antonio on DVD
To order In the Year of the Pig, go to
To order Point of Order, go to
That hasn't happened, but the release of DVDs of de Antonio's Point of Order! and In the Year of the Pig is a good start for those unfamiliar with the man who paved the way for such other political documentarians as Michael Moore (Fahrenheit 9/11), Ron Mann (Grass) and Robert Greenblatt (Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the War on Iraq, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price). The DVDs are also substantial enough that those familiar with the movies will find much to enjoy in their extras—despite the fact that neither includes the wished-for comprehensive documentary.
Point of Order! (1963) was de Antonio's first foray into filmmaking. He sifted through television footage of the 36 days of 1954's Army-McCarthy hearings, in which red-hunting Sen. Joseph McCarthy's bullying for power was exposed to a national audience, and whittled the proceedings down to movie length, making "high theater of it," as he later said. The hearings covered allegations traded by the Army and McCarthy. The Army charged McCarthy and his infamous chief counsel, Roy Cohn, had relentlessly sought privileges for G. David Schine, an ex-staffer who had been drafted. McCarthy said the Army was using Schine as a "hostage" to stave off the senator's investigation into Communist infiltration of the Army.
Though some of the details remain unclear, de Antonio's distillation of the hearings before a special Senate subcommittee is indeed dramatic. There is never a dull moment with personalities such as McCarthy, Cohn and Joseph Welch, the laconic lawyer who was the Army's special counsel, involved, while such elements as a cropped photo, a fabricated letter from J. Edgar Hoover and a real memo from President Eisenhower all figure in this great debate. It fell to self-described "old-time lawyer" Welch to level McCarthy during his cross-examination of the senator. With his bullheaded best-defense-is-a-good-offense strategy, McCarthy injects a charge against one of Welch's law-firm colleagues, who had belonged to a leftist organization years before. In an eloquent refutation, Welch utters the famous line, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?"
Arriving at this time, the DVD of Point of Order! makes a fitting companion to George Clooney's recent docudrama, Good Night, and Good Luck, about a different chapter in McCarthy's downfall, his struggle with broadcaster Edward R. Murrow. The McCarthy era's debate over balancing national security and civil liberties also makes Point of Order! especially relevant at the moment.
The same can certainly be said of 1968's In the Year of the Pig. After Point of Order!, de Antonio had made Rush to Judgment, an investigation into the assassination of John F. Kennedy with author Mark Lane, and America is Hard to See, which chronicled the upstart 1968 presidential campaign of a very different Senator McCarthy, Minnesota's Eugene McCarthy. Although his first three movies were anti-establishment advocacy movies, none was as bold as In the Year of the Pig, which questioned the Vietnam War at a time when the majority of Americans still supported it.
While you might expect such a film to be an emotional rant, In the Year of the Pig is actually a very interesting historical movie. Instead of just attacking U.S. foreign policy, in the movie's first half de Antonio presents an almost sober look at how Vietnam had been a plaything of Asian and western imperialism and how, when Vietnamese self-determination seemed to be a reality at the end of World War II, western democracy betrayed the country. First, the French colonials barged their way back into Vietnam, leading to their famous defeat at Dien Bien Phu to Vietnamese nationalist forces in 1954. The resulting truce agreement artificially split the country into the free north and French-occupied south until elections in 1956. But, then, when it became clear that Ho Chi Minh was going to win the election, the west reneged on the accord and installed a puppet regime, continuing the division of the country. This and later puppet regimes were increasingly propped up by the U.S. We, of course, sent in advisors and then troops when these regimes became less and less popular, and the chances for armed popular uprising became greater and greater—framing the conflict as a civil war in which we were aiding. But had the French and Americans left Vietnam to its own devices after World War II, the sources of much of the conflict would have vanished.
De Antonio gets around to attacking U.S. military conduct during the second half of the movie, and he frames the war as a David-and-Goliath battle in which he not only asks you to sympathize with the Vietnamese but to realize, as Daniel Berrigan says in his interview, "the war is not working." To tell his history, de Antonio uses a wide variety of news footage and interviews a wide variety of people, including politicians, academics and military and intelligence personnel. The perspective of the Frenchmen interviewed, who had already learned the hard lessons of Vietnam that the U.S. had not, is especially interesting. Of course, it's very debatable whether the U.S. truly learned the lessons of Vietnam, considering current world events. So the history in In the Year of the Pig feels very fresh, tragically fresh.
The Point of Order! and In the Year of the Pig DVDs each have extras that genuinely enhance its movie. Both have commentaries forged from a lengthy 1978 interview with outspoken de Antonio, although the second is shorter and not quite as interesting (its topics are more general). But the In the Year of the Pig DVD compensates by including a half-hour de Antonio interviewed that aired on Nebraska public TV in 1981. De Antonio is in fine, feisty form in the interview, as he is in these, two of his best known movies. His subsequent films included Millhouse, a savage knock on President Nixon that, again, exposed truths many had not yet noticed, and Underground, an extended interview with members of the radical Weather Underground when they were hiding out to escape arrest.
For more information about In the Year of the Pig, visit Image Entertainment. For more information about Point of Order, visit New Yorker Films.
by Paul Sherman
In the Year of the Pig/Point of Order - Two Documentaries by Emile de Antonio on DVD To order In the Year of the Pig, go to TCM Shopping. To order Point of Order, go to TCM Shopping.
This film contains 60% new footage filmed in 16mm.