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Take Five: Director of Leslie Laskey film looks to 2013 Film Festival

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 30, 2012 - Buzz is building for the Nov. 8-18 St. Louis International Film Festival. Screening at six different venues, it offers hundreds of choices, but if you want to see “47 Views of Leslie Laskey,” your best bet is next year’s event. Or watch for the DVD in November.

Director David Wild’s “47 Views” of the the iconic professor emeritus of Washington University’s Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts was finished just in time to show to a private audience Oct. 16 at The Chase. Now, Wild and his wife, cinematographer Lulu Gargiulo, are hoping for a spot in St. Louis’ 2013 lineup, Seattle’s film festival and in a handful of other documentary festivals around the country.

Laskey and Wild both hail from Manistee, Mich. Every summer, Laskey and numerous other artists return there for Art Kamp and camaraderie.

Wild and Gargiulo, who now live in Seattle, met Laskey there in 1996 through Wild's brother-in-law, who took a Laskey Art Kamp class. They were immediately hooked by the engaging personality and prolific creativity of the teacher, painter, sculptor and photographer.

In 2001, Laskey agreed to let their camera into his Manistee retreat. Eleven years later, “47 Views” was complete. The film has no narration; its sole voice is Laskey’s, accompanied primarily by Bach Cello Suite No. 3 in C Major. In a decade's worth of non-linear interviews, Laskey talked about teaching, his D-Day experiences at Normandy and the artistic significance of a charred hinge plucked from a neighbor's fire pit, among other topics.

Laskey, who asked for no restrictions on content and left the editing process up to the filmmakers, was pleased with the way his story unfolded.

“I like the idea there was very little timeline for the past and future and that the current time got overlapped, not unlike origami, in a way,” Laskey said. “That’s pretty much the way I live.”

Gargiulo and Wild, whose mainstay is commercial work, intend for some of the DVD proceeds to benefit Studio L, an organization that helped raise funds for the film and is dedicated to preserving the Laskey legacy. They also hope it can air on PBS. The Beacon talked with the couple about “47 Views” and how it came to be.

St. Louis Beacon: What first drew you to Leslie Laskey?

Wild: We would go to his place and we would leave feeling charged, literally charged, in two ways: enthused and inspired but also kind of charged with, it’s time to get to work. I mean look what this guy’s doing.

And he was always interested in what you were doing. He was always like, “Maybe you should try this.” He’s 91 years old and he’s always turning me on to new music and new books and his interest is so varied. Like he’ll say, “Well, I just finished this Icelandic mystery and I think you might enjoy it.” And he’ll send you a box of books.

I don’t think we knew immediately we would film it. It was something we’d talk about on the way home from his house. It took a while for him to let us film him.

How did you begin filming?

Gargiulo: What opened the door was when he was turning 80, we asked if it would be OK to shoot a film of the party. Then, the first time we actually interviewed him, we just put a camera on him when we were having dinner.

Wild: I did take his art class for a week in 2001. I thought in that way, I could experience being his art student, and Lulu filmed the entire week. So that was kind of a window and I think it allowed him to get familiar with the camera being pointed at him.

The film includes Laskey talking about his sister Elsie and his mentor Shiko Munakata. Why was there no mention in the film of his longtime partner, artist Frank Schwaiger (about whom he spoke with the Beacon in 2011)?

Wild: Most of the time Frank wasn’t there when we were filming and when he was there, Frank would sort of leave us alone. And it never really came up. They come from a whole different generation and it was a very different kind of world back in the ‘60s and even the ‘70s. I didn’t think it had anything to do with his artwork and we just never got into it.

Gargiulo: When they met, there was no way they could be open about it and I think they maintained that over the years. Everybody knows, who knows them, but publicly they both have their own lives.

Why did you title the film “47 Views?”

Wild: There’s a tradition of Japanese woodblock, of Hokusai and Hiroshigi, who would do these collections of prints that would be kind of like a travelogue, like Hiroshigi’s “100 Views of Edo.” And they would sell series of these and it would show a trip or describe a place.

Out of all the art he (Laskey) does, I think he’d like to be known as a woodblock artist. Because there’s a physical nature to it and there’s this link to the Bauhaus. And it was just kind of a nod to that. I didn’t think just one view would describe Leslie.

Why did you pick the number you did?

Wild: Well, 47 is a prime number. I had originally mentioned 18 and Leslie goes, “Well don’t you think there are more than that?”

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.