1958, the twenty-two-year-old Arthur Lipsett was employed by the
National Film Board of Canada, having acquired a position in their
animation department following his training at the Montreal Museum of
Fine Arts School of Art and Design. During this time he began lifting
pieces of film from around the Film Board, editing them together with
stills he'd shot, and combining these images with sounds he sampled
from the same hallways. This film became Very Nice, Very Nice.
Costing between $500 and $8,326 (depending upon who was reporting),
this collage film was nominated for an academy award in 1962.
That sort of honour cannot be ignored so Lipsett found funding for more
of his film projects throughout the remainder of the sixties. However,
as the years passed, the bureaucracy at the NFB became intolerant of
Lipsett's unorthodox approaches and behaviour and began to assign him
increasingly pointless tasks. Lipsett himself grew unable to function
at the Film Board, or eventually anywhere. He left the NFB in 1970
after the completion of N-Zone.
Throughout the seventies, Lipsett failed to complete any other films.
An invitation back to the Film Board in 1978 was cut short when Lipsett
resigned from the project, writing "I, Arthur Lipsett have developed a
phobia of sound tape. Also my creative ability in the film field has
disappeared. There is no way to explain this and the result is that I
cannot continue to work for the government." Eight years later, after
being in and out of the hospital for psychiatric treatment and two
weeks before his fiftieth birthday, Arthur Lipsett committed suicide.
By the end of Lipsett's filmmaking career, the use of found footage and
rapid cutting which he was the master had become commonplace in the
mass media. However, none of the imitators would ever accomplish what
Lipsett did. His films have an unmistakable rhythm, pulling you in and
out of your chair and leading you to unexpected places. They challenge
the mind, the eye and the ear with their relentless poetry.
One aspect of Lipsett's legacy that is of particular interest to me is
how he is simultaneously one of the most renowned and most ignored
Canadian filmmakers. While I have known his name and his films for
years, it was not until I began seeking out writings about him that I
realized how history has been erasing him. The problem, as I see it,
lies in the tension between the National Film Board and the independent
experimental filmmakers. The NFB's writing about itself is
non-critical, consisting primarily of catalogues and promotional
material. The Film Board is most famous for its documentaries and for
its animation. It is on these fields that most attention from scholars
is paid, leaving works such as those in this program out. On the other
side of the fence, independent filmmakers, commonly wearing both the
creative as well as the curatorial hats, promote only work which
rejects institutionalized filmmaking. I sense that there must be some
resentment by these filmmakers towards any staff directors (a more
common position in the sixties) at the NFB who were being paid to make
the films that those on the outside create out of their own pockets.
The result is that no one is willing or able to situate Lipsett's work,
choosing instead to ignore it.
PROGRAM - FRIDAY, OCTOBER 24, 1997
Saskatchewan Filmpool Cooperative
Very Nice, Very Nice - 1961, 7 minutes
A study of the city, of the contradictions that modern society has
created. While there is a tremendous diversity of faces in our midst,
we grow more and more faceless. There is much "progress" but most of it
is towards our own annihilation.
21-87 - 1963, 10 minutes
Lipsett struggles with humanism, with the admission that the state of
the world is our fault and there is no god. Our lives are in our own
hands as we take risks ranging from swinging on a trapeze to smoking.
The one thing we have, our humanity, we hide under cosmetic masks or
substitute with mechanical replacements. In the end, our only ascension
will be by escalator.
Free Fall - 1964, 9 minutes
A very impressionistic work, the rhythm of Lipsett's camerawork melds
well with his found images as Lipsett compares us unfavourable to the
devoutly constructive insects. The live R&B lends a further crazed
layer to this film which rubs our faces in the futility of our efforts
to change this crumbling civilization.
A Trip Down Memory Lane - 1965, 12 minutes
Lipsett appears to be reducing the twentieth century down to "people
are obsessed with power and with flying" in what he calls his
Additional Material For Time Capsule. This is a very angry piece,
filled with images of the biggest atrocities every committed to film.
Tanks for the memories Arthur.
Hors-d'Oeuvres - 1961, 7 minutes
Hors-d'Oeuvres is a collection of short animated films made by the NFB
with the CBC and the Department of Labour promoting Tv, televised
concert performances and traffic safety. The directors include Gerald
Potterton, Robert Verrall, Derek Lamb, Jeff Hale, Kaj Pindal and Arthur
Fluxes - 1967, 24 minutes
Lipsett pulls no punches in making us look foolish as we search for
answers to all the wrong questions in all the wrong ways. Faith, war
and science are all deconstructed without revealing any truth. They are
all facades for what we are really thinking, that "the only morality is
City of Regina Arts Commission
Saskatchewan Arts Board
National Film Board of Canada
Saskatchewan Motion Picture Association
Special thanks to
programming and program notes: Gerald Saul
cover illustration: Margaret Bessai
other images courtesy NFB Archives, Montreal.