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Interview with Leon Gast

Trailer

HBO

The first question people have when they hear the title is: what is Smash His Camera all about?

LEON GAST

Well, it's something that Jacqueline Kennedy allegedly said to one of her bodyguards after Ron Galella (the subject of the film) had been photographing her. 

HBO

Who is Ron and why is he famous?

LEON GAST

Ron Galella is the first American paparazzi. The term comes from Fellini's great film "La Dolce Vita," which has a character named Paparazzi who's a kind of celebrity stalking photographer.  Ron heard it, picked it up, and designated himself the world's greatest paparazzi. "I'm paparazzi superstar." He was pretty much alone back then. He had his own tactics, and he lived by his own rules and he was very smart and rather than go where everybody else would go, he'd find out where a celebrity lived. He had patience. And he was a very good photographer who ended up taking some of the most beautiful pictures of celebrities ever captured. 

Most people knew him as a villain, as this despicable stalker/photographer. That's the way he was portrayed in the '60s and '70s on TV, on the radio, in magazines, in newspapers. I would tell people about the project I'm working on: "What's it about?" "Ron Galella. Have you ever heard of him?" "Oh. That guy." Everybody had that opinion.

HBO

There are many people who have covered celebrities over the years. What made Ron an icon in this business?

He was looking for the off-guard picture, but he wasn't looking for the sensational picture.

LEON GAST

He was looking for the off-guard picture, but he wasn't looking for the sensational picture. He's taken about three million pictures. Five are in MoMA. When I looked at his contact sheets, you could see that Ron was aware of his framing. He was an artist. That convinced me that he wasn't the sleazebag he was labeled to be. 

HBO

If you were to choose one image for a time capsule to represent Ron, which would it be? 

LEON GAST

That's very difficult, but I think most people would say the windblown shot of Jackie Kennedy crossing Fifth Avenue.  The light is perfect behind her. The wind is blowing and she turns and she's got a Mona Lisa smile. And he says in the film, "I jumped in a cab. I followed her. The cab driver blew the horn. She turned. She smiled. I don't think she knew it was me."  That pretty much sums up one layer of their relationship.

Ron really believes that he has a moral right to do what he's doing. He is very serious about his work. He still goes out on the red carpets. He's got a new book coming out.  So when he's not shooting, he's in the darkroom with his negatives. He mixes chemicals. He still makes prints himself. He thinks it's heroic, what he's doing. And, fifty years from now, we'll see. 

Smash His Camera

2010 Summer Series

2010 Sundance Film Festival Winner