How the Film Flint Distorts the Truth

Mojie Crigler

  1. We smoked crack, not heroin. Jeter Flint bought crack on 16th and Mission and brought it back to the loft (which was on 19th and Bryant, not 23rd and Shotwell) where we cut the crack with cigarette ash, packed it in a pipe and smoked it, exhaling into someone else’s mouth to make the crack last as long as possible. The film gets Jeter’s basic facts right, though: a painter, from Laredo, Texas via Las Vegas, New Mexico. Someone should make a prequel about his childhood growing up in the border town without electricity or running water or shoes. Casting Paul Bettany as Jeter was brilliant; they could have been twins.
  2. Jeter lost Russian roulette on the first round, not the third. He lost immediately. I know: I loaded the gun.
  3. My inheritance comes from timber, not oil.
  4. Beautiful Anna Paquin could make the phone book sound thrilling, but she bears absolutely no resemblance to me. I have black eyes, a large but elegant nose, and I was, without shoes, the same height as Jeter. She’s got the right desperate desert-flower spirit, though. She got that right, even with a lousy script.
  5. We rode BMWs, not Harleys. This was San Francisco in 1995, not 1967. We rode R100s and R65s, salvaged, rebuilt and sold at a little shop near South Park where Jeter worked, on and off, and from which everyone “borrowed” bikes for spontaneous trips to Tres Piedras or K58. I wore a gold sparkly helmet (yes, Ms. Paquin, I wore a helmet) and my favorite coat looked like it had been skinned off a lion.
  6. The film makes the loft look clean and far too empty. Always, someone was crashing on our couch (nubby green, not worn leather). Every week—sometimes every night—we threw parties, so mess and wreckage became part of our decor. The studio took up half of that big loft and we lived in the other half. Jeter built the kitchen and bathroom from scratch, with pipes and appliances rescued from junkyards and scrap heaps. Do It Yourself was the prevailing wisdom of the time. People even frowned on taking a car to a drive-through carwash—why, when, with a hose and sponge, you could wash it out back, out by the coffee roaster and the bakery? The stove ran off a propane tank. When it rained, we put pots under the leaking skylights. The loft lacked a heater, but if we remembered to close the windows, we’d catch the afternoon sun and make it last through the evening.
  7. Jeter painted 71 portraits of me, not 50, like the film claims.
  8. After Jeter shot himself playing Russian roulette, years passed before the art dealers woke up. First, I called the ambulance. (They took us to SF General, a few blocks away, and I thought, “We could have walked,” forgetting that Jeter was dead.) Then I called our friend Hambone to take away the gun. Maybe the filmmakers coerced him to say, but I never knew Hambone threw the gun in Lake Merced. After I wiped blood off Jeter’s last series—Puerto Angel, i-xi, not Suchitoto, i-viii (for which, by the by, Jeter used knitters from the downstairs factory as models)—I left the loft with the clothes on my back and didn’t return for three years. The film makes up a hero at the Whitney who discovers Jeter’s genius while the gun report still echoes. Yeah, right. I needed three years before I could open the studio door again. Then we—yes, not just me the widowed muse, but everyone in that crowd, all those musicians and actors and writers and painters: Hambone, Pike, Lucius, Ervina, Mabel Martin, Rosie Coo, and Zon—we spent a year and a half cataloging Jeter’s work. We started with a small show at Intersection for the Arts, because Jeter loved that space. The show killed. No one in the world cared. Five more years—of mailings and small, nothing shows and moving his paintings out of the studio into a Public Storage in El Cerrito—before New York came calling, during which time I was in and out of rehab, married, kids, divorced, custody lost. But that’s the power of film—to skip the truly awful parts.
  9. A lot of people were smoking crack back then, not just crackheads on 16th and Mission. Some software CEO came to look at Jeter’s paintings one Friday afternoon and smoked crack with us like it was Virginia tobacco. That man was loaded—and he was smoking crack. The world was a wasteland. Why bother with cocaine, grass, speed, pills—we’d done that, and others had before us, and where had it taken us—all of us? Our neighborhood was half Mexicans trying to eke out a decent life, and half post-industrial wreck, like the crumbling graffitied mayonnaise factory with its ripped up railroad tracks. At night, we were alone in our building. The knitters, the coffee roaster, the baker went home. At night, the place was desolate, not unlike the desert, an urban desert.
  10. I did not raise the gun to my head. I did not pull the trigger. There were always guns around. Some of our friends had guns. Once Jeter fired a gun in the loft and put a hole in a poster of Miles Davis, right through his forehead. We were playing Russian roulette long before it was just Jeter and me in his studio (at 5 a.m., not midnight: dawn’s ugly crack, not the clock’s fresh start).
  11. The film tries to be a love story. (Whether it succeeds is not for me to say.) A young man and young woman meet—introduced to each other by Bruce Conner at an art opening—and it’s like oil hitting the skillet. They love. Color. Music. People. Sex. Speed. Desert. Space. He paints. He paints her. Over and over. He loves her. She wears nothing made after 1976. Often, she wears nothing at all. She loves him. But the film doesn’t mention that he is secretly fucking Mabel Martin and Rosie Coo, which she doesn’t find out until after his death. Nor does the film acknowledge that when she first met him, he was dating Ervina who was always angry afterward. The film says love is a widow’s devotion to a dead man’s art. But really this widow felt robbed. To let the dead man’s work languish—which it would have if she hadn’t done something—would have been a waste of her life, too. In the end, it didn’t matter. One second he was there, the next he was gone. Making his art famous after his death didn’t make him alive again. Making a film about him didn’t either.
  12. Paul Bettany did not capture the part of Jeter that was a son of a bitch. Jeter yelled, loud, so close to my face I was wet from his spit. In bed, he called me a whore. Once, he held my face in his hand so hard there were red imprints on my cheek and jaw where his fingers had pressed in.
  13. I didn’t always sit for the portraits. It wasn’t hours of me naked with a dead bird on my shoulder. Sometimes he took a photograph and painted from that.
  14. Yes, I inherited a fortune, but it was not a large fortune and I had a part-time job getting my hands on cash every month. I’m sure it’s easier to make my “character” filthy rich, but in truth my finances were entangled with the family lawyer, who treated me like a street urchin, and my mother, who would have preferred that I was dead. My family knew wood (remember: timber, not oil). Trees. Logging. Forests. My family thought art was for queers. They thought painting was what children do in kindergarten. They thought I had thrown my life away. But I went to them every month to collect my allowance. I don’t care what people think of that. I believed in Jeter. What else could I do that would pay that much money? Sell my body or sell drugs. But I wasn’t the insouciant benefactress. I was the strung-out family fuck-up who once, after leaving the lawyer’s office, tripped and fell on the sidewalk and no one helped me up.
  15. I imagine it’s difficult for anyone to understand why a man would pick up a gun and shoot himself in the head. People want to think Jeter was suicidal—that’s what the people who made this film think—or he made a mistake influenced by drugs—that is also implied by the filmmakers, who set Jeter’s death a room away from a debaucherous party. Does he think he’s invincible? Does he think life is worthless? Is he wasted on heroin? (never heroin! we smoked crack!) Actually, the evening started in a quiet way. For dinner, we ate prosciutto and Gruyère on a stale baguette. We were drinking a bottle of champagne, a gift from Lucius and Pike. We ate standing at the kitchen counter that Jeter had built. I was wearing my lion-skin coat. Jeter’s clothes were covered in paint. He had just finished Madonna on the carousel. After dinner, he put on some music—a local band called Thin—and we danced. We danced well together. We had a dance we’d made up. We called it our shuffle. I loved dancing with him. Then we threw a television out the window, followed by a couple of shoes neither of us wanted anymore, some clothes, an old 16 mm camera that didn’t work anymore. We watched everything land on the sidewalk and smash into pieces. The loft had big windows, good for throwing large objects onto the sidewalk. I don’t know why we did it. We did what we wanted, when we wanted. I don’t know where the gun came from.
  16. I’ve never received a dime for Jeter’s work. We weren’t married. I’ve done enough fighting for money.  I do all right between my Public Storage sites and my divorce settlement (I married a computer software developer a year after Jeter’s death; we divorced after my third turn at rehab). I blew the rest of my trust fund on booze and then the timber business was sold. Anna Paquin looks great in black and I agree with her speech at the museum, that the New York art world ignores the West, but I never said those words. I guess the filmmakers needed a rousing ending to suit the sappy score they ordered up.
  17. Maybe the story would have fared better as a documentary. Once I said to Jeter that my life was like a short story collection, full of strange moments that seemed like lessons I should understand but didn’t. Jeter said life was like a film, because everyone was beautiful and eloquent and backed by a great soundtrack. He meant even the bums and the crack dealers. He saw beauty in everything. He would have hated the film’s soundtrack. We didn’t listen to popular music. We listened to local bands. And we’d listen to one album over and over and over again, just one album, until we were sick of it, or the next one appeared, ready to take its place. If the filmmakers wanted an authentic soundtrack, they should have played Jim Campilongo & the 10 Gallon Hats non-stop.
  18. The night Jeter shot himself, we were drinking champagne, not whiskey.
  19. Why must films about artists always include a montage in which the artist works furiously? Why the compulsory fugue state? Jeter worked long hours and sometimes was frustrated or exhilarated, but most of the time he was simply working, the way a lumberjack takes down one tree and then the next. He was methodical. He had endurance. He needed little sleep. He did not rush. Unlike Mr. Bettany, Jeter did not furrow his lovely brow. (His raggedy brow, and especially his long eyelashes, made me think I could see through the man before me and know him as a boy.)
  20. Jeter painted much more than portraits, although to watch the film, you’d think he was John Singer Sargent.
  21. The sun was coming up and it was that creepy part of an all-nighter when the next day appears and you realize you missed out on sleep. When I was a girl, I was insomniac and I would hear the birds start up at 4 and want to slit my wrists. The feeling is: oh shit, it’s here. On his worktable were an ashtray, brushes, a half-burned Rolodex, sponges, rags, old sketches with phone numbers scribbled in the curling margins, eraser dust. Why did he shoot himself? I think he thought he wasn’t going to. But Jeter was always ready to die. I opened the cylinder, dropped the bullet, spun it, closed it. I didn’t think he was going to die then, either. Death came quick. He fell down, off the chair. His eyes were fixed. He was gone. But I have been there ever since. Would that he were something I could end and leave behind as I brush popcorn crumbs from my lap and wander slowly to the exit and the street, the night, the people, returning to myself, remembering that there is a real world outside and I have only been watching a film.


I’m on record as hating stories that traffic in excessive pop cultural references. But this story is ingenious precisely because it appears to be about a film when, in fact, the film itself is made up. The story manages to create an entire imagined world around this film, and a real world around it. In a short space, it says a great deal about the nature of fame, celebrity, artistic creation, and media representation. The voice is smart, mordant, and brutally honest – wounded without being angry. Most important, I simply loved reading it. That’s the first and last thing we can ask of a story. Bravo!
—Steve Almond, 2010 Howard Frank Mosher Prize Judge

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