Emile was like chocolate ice cream, except that you didn’t eat him, he just kept pouring over you, tasting good. I met his daughter there at that Factory party (we became a sort of “item” for a moment) where I was pretty much stone-cold scared of everyone and then she introduced me to him, we began talking about his latest film, Rush to Judgement, which he was getting ready to release, and then the one he was working on, In the Year of the Pig. We talked all night at a diner over on Lexington and then one afternoon, all afternoon, at his studio in Chelsea. Then, when the movie was finished in 1969 we met again for a long interview.
Being with him was tantamount to putting coins into a slot machine and getting triple something every time. I’d made it (miraculously) to seventeen by then, and had developed a smidgen of brains, was about 5’9”. Emile was close to 6’1” and was this hulking, swarthy guy. I’d ask him some pipsqueak question like, “Were there any political restraints holding you back from making the movie?” as if I were some hack from CNN (there was no CNN, of course) and he’d fill up two pages of raw data about what the FBI did to try and stop him off the top of his head. One question after another. I wish I could show you the transcript. I have it in book form (EVO published the best interviews between 1966 and 1972 in a book, Our Time). It was a riot. I kept a straight face throughout. So did he. He probably cracked up later. Although I was quite proud of myself for a long time after. I had to spend most of two days transcribing the thing with his daughter, Wren, who had an easier time making out what he was saying on my old miniature reel-to-reel tape recorder.
We went walking in Washington Square one afternoon, talking about painting—his real love—because he knew I was in art school and all, and he spied this woman who came hunting for him. He sat me down on a bench and told me in a worried whisper to wait there for him and ran away. The woman ran up to me, stared at me for a moment, then kept hunting for him. A few minutes later he reappeared calm as a tadpole. Then we went for coffee. That was a trippy deal. I don’t think she was working for the FBI, though.
There was one thing, one point he made in that final interview, that still resonates with me, and that has influenced my thinking, that has, in my opinion, remained as true from his perspective as anything else he claimed: “...all art is political, finally. I think this is why American painting is coming to an end, because American painting is in itself a political expression simply because it avoids everything this world has to do with, its ultimate statements are statements which are simply decorations. And these are statements, I might add, that are very, very congenial to U.S. government and big business, both of which endow and support painting. When film, like mine, is endowed by big business and government, then we will know that the films are no good.”
It isn’t as if we were close friends. I met a lot of people and they were acquaintances. They saw my youth and sometimes—someone like Emile, perhaps, because he was a parent and a sensitive person—saw through the lies I was telling everyone (that I was a college student) to understand I was someone much younger and treated me with a certain paternal deference. But still as a fellow bohemian. Which was a little crazy. But, again, I survived. Which was also a little crazy.
Thanks for taking the time to wade through all this, Taylor, and thanks for asking. It was definitely a skim job, and an actual letter to Peter Leggieri. It was his birthday last month and he really did send me that copy of EVO I had not seen, except for the cover, since 1968. So cool. And so cool you're doing work for Revolver. That's real.
I can't help much, but maybe they'd be interested in that Waldo Balart history? If so, feel free to dig into the story on my article that's already there and I'll edit the page for you to include an image of the conclusion. Just let me know!