Jeanne Pope

sculpts a fit­ting trib­ute to the late artist Stan­ley Lewis.

Montreal Gazette - - Front Page - BILL BROWN­STEIN on sculp­tor Stan­ley Lewis bbrown­[email protected]­tre­al­gazette.com

Jeanne Pope thought she had her life pretty much fig­ured out eight years ago. Then Pope, a sin­gle mom who moved here from Lon­don in 2000, hap­pened to be brows­ing through a sec­ond-hand book­shop on the Main. She lit­er­ally bumped into mav­er­ick Montreal sculp­tor Stan­ley Lewis.

And so Pope’s life was to change in ways she never would have dreamed. Pope, a ther­a­pist at a chi­ro­prac­tic clinic, was mes­mer­ized by Lewis, who was al­most as renowned for his philo­soph­i­cal views on the uni­verse as he was for his art. Lewis and his work were to con­sume Pope long past his death in 2006.

Though she had never picked up a cam­era prior to meet­ing Lewis, Pope de­cided she wanted to be­come a film­maker and fo­cus on the sculp­tor. And so she ap­plied and was ac­cepted as a ma­ture stu­dent in Con­cor­dia Univer­sity’s es­teemed film-pro­duc­tion pro­gram.

Pope, now 50, has just com­pleted a doc­u­men­tary film tril­ogy de­voted to Lewis and his stomp­ing grounds on the Main, where his home/stu­dio was lo­cated up­stairs from Ber­son Mon­u­ments.

This last chap­ter, Dust: A Sculp­tor’s Jour­ney, screens Sun­day and Mon­day at the Fes­ti­val du nou­veau cinéma.

The first in the se­ries, Where’s Stan­ley, won prizes at film fes­ti­vals in Los An­ge­les and else­where around the con­ti­nent. The sec­ond, Birth of the Smoked Meat, earned Pope and her co-di­rec­tor Zoe Mapp the Ko­dak Imag­ing Award for best new Cana­dian stu­dent di­rec­tor at the 2006 Montreal World Film Fes­ti­val. The prize also en­tailed a trip for them to the 2007 Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, in­clud­ing trans­porta­tion, ac­com­mo­da­tion and ac­cred­i­ta­tion for the fest.

Birth of the Smoked Meat, in­spired by Lewis’s love for deli, fol­lows

“(Jeanne) Pope has just com­pleted a doc­u­men­tary

film tril­ogy de­voted to Lewis.”

the beef from lowly brisket to mouth-wa­ter­ing spiced de­light. The film’s ac­cent is on the meat’s prepa­ra­tion and its sub­se­quent de­vour­ing by Lewis at the Main deli on St. Lau­rent Blvd. And it’s no ac­ci­dent that Peter Var­varo, the Main’s boss and Lewis’s buddy, is throw­ing a smoked-meat bash for Pope and pa­trons fol­low­ing the Sun­day screen­ing of Dust.

Pope’s back­ground, like that of the eth­ni­cally di­verse mul­ti­tudes who con­gre­gate on St. Lau­rent Blvd., is clas­sic Montreal mul­ti­cul­tural. A Le­banese Mus­lim, she was adopted by Rus­sian Jews in Lon­don af­ter her par­ents died. She speaks five lan­guages. This is what prompted her to make the 2008 an­i­mated doc Up and Down the City Road, a soul­ful trib­ute to the Main, its peo­ple and its places – many of which have since been boarded up.

In Dust, Pope once again laments the end of a great era on the Main, with the pass­ing of Lewis and his hard-luck film­maker crony Ryan Larkin. But the fo­cus here is more on Lewis’s art and tur­bu­lent times in the fi­nal years of his life.

Dust is a heart­felt and muchde­served homage to a most mis­un­der­stood man. Com­plex and com­plexed on so many lev­els, Lewis also pos­sessed a child­like in­no­cence – which at­tracted Pope and so many oth­ers. And can’t for­get that the man also had a way with mar­ble.

In the film, Lewis opens up to Pope. He talks about how his fore­bears ar­rived here at the turn of the last cen­tury and set down roots not far from Lewis’s later digs on the Main. His par­ents were im­pov­er­ished, so young Lewis had to find low-cost ways to amuse him­self. It be­gan with a piece of wood he found on the street, and a sculp­tor was born.

And yet an­other rea­son why par­ents shouldn’t take too much heed of school ap­ti­tude tests: Based on the re­sults of the lat­ter, Lewis was ad­vised he’d be bet­ter off as a clerk.

Lewis paid no mind. He won art schol­ar­ships. He headed off to Italy, home of his hero Michelan­gelo. He pro­duced pro­lif­i­cally back home. He taught. He de­vel­oped a cult fol­low­ing.

He also made en­e­mies. He had le­gal bat­tles. He lost jobs and grants. He lost fam­ily. He suf­fered ner­vous break­downs. He re­treated to his stu­dio on his spir­i­tual base, the Main.

Ah, the life of an artist. Not al­ways so glam.

In the doc, Pope tries to get Lewis to ex­hibit again. He re­sists. He looks so worn – and would make a splen­did sub­ject for a sculp­ture him­self. He is dy­ing. He main­tains he has found peace in self-ex­ile and sick­ness. He claims he’s at home with the dust in the stu­dio and, of course, dust serves as an apt metaphor for his ul­ti­mate desti­na­tion.

Also fas­ci­nat­ing and mov­ing is the in­ter­play be­tween Lewis and Larkin, both head­strong and ec­cen­tric artists who re­fused to com­pro­mise. Larkin was to pass away not long af­ter Lewis. Both are sorely missed, but, thanks to this film (among sev­eral oth­ers), will at least be re­mem­bered.

“When I first met Stan­ley, he re­minded me of my adopted fa­ther, Mar­ius (a noted Bri­tish jour­nal­ist),” Pope re­calls. “And some­thing just stirred. Then Stan be­ing Stan, a chat­ter­box and cu­ri­ous, and me be­ing the same, this in­cred­i­ble friend­ship started.”

And so the last eight years of her life have been spent zoom­ing in on the life of Lewis. “There was such sad­ness in his life. But I do be­lieve he found some sense of hap­pi­ness in his last few years,” says Pope, who still toils as a “nat­u­ral ther­a­pist – a cross be­tween a glo­ri­fied mas­sage ther­a­pist and a ki­ne­si­ol­o­gist” – by day.

“Peo­ple ask me if I’m ever go­ing to do some­thing else. I tell them we had a pact. But now the fi­nal film in the tril­ogy has been made. I just went to Stan­ley’s grave and put a stone on it, then told him: ‘It’s over, my friend. I don’t think I can do any more.’ ” Lewis would surely un­der­stand.

Dust did Hot Docs in Toronto and is head­ing off to fests in Ire­land and Scot­land. “And I’ve ac­tu­ally been very pre­sump­tu­ous and have en­tered it into the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val. Hey, why not? You never know,” says Pope, who will next be work­ing on a doc about men­tal health.

“It’s been a long jour­ney from my first day in film school, where I was mis­taken for the teacher. I told the much younger stu­dents that I was sim­ply ma­ture and that it’s never too late to learn. Lit­tle did I know then how true that was.” Dust: A Sculp­tor’s Jour­ney screens Sun­day at 1 p.m. and Mon­day at 3:15 p.m. at Ex-cen­tris, 3536 St. Lau­rent Blvd., as part of the Fes­ti­val du nou­veau cinéma. Visit www.nou­veaucin­ema.ca.

AL­VARO PACHECO

Stan­ley Lewis opens up to Jeanne Pope in Dust: A Sculp­tor’s Jour­ney, re­flect­ing on his work while main­tain­ing he has found peace in seclu­sion.

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