In 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.

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 Lipsett.

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 survival".

Filmpool Sponsors

Saskatchewan Lotteries
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Saskatchewan Arts Board
National Film Board of Canada
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Special thanks to
Michael Dancsok
Richard Kerr
Media House
NFB Archives

programming and program notes: Gerald Saul
cover illustration: Margaret Bessai
other images courtesy NFB Archives, Montreal.

Gerald Saul 2005