Close Up

16 September 2008: Lost & Found: The Films of Arthur Lipsett


Arthur Lipsett recognized cinema's ability to reveal the ugly side of life, the things we don't want to acknowledge: the refuse. By pursuing truth within the everyday, Lipsett also discovered beauty in the basic and the absurd. Utilizing found materials in concert with self-shot photos and footage, his films transform the fragmentary nature of refuse into a unified material vision. This program brings together Lipsett's first five celluloid compositions, produced at the National Film Board of Canada across the 1960s. These films, which represent the primary arc of his artistic evolution, exemplify how pictures and sounds can be fused in a synthetic yet sincerely personal form.

The evening is curated and introduced by Brett Kashmere.

Very Nice, Very Nice
Arthur Lipsett
1961 | 7 min | B/W | 16mm

Arthur Lipsett's first film received a 1962 Academy Award nomination in the Best Live Action Short category. Like all of his films, Very Nice, Very Nice disrupts the representational value of documentary image and sound, moving beyond the genre's aesthetic codes of truth and reliability. The result is a sardonic re-reading of 1950s consumerism, mass media and popular culture. Images of the repulsive and often overlooked damage left by both war and technological progress punctuate Very Nice, Very Nice, giving the film an enduring punch.
A Trip Down Memory Lane
Arthur Lipsett
1965 | 12 min | B/W | 16mm

A surrealist time capsule combining fifty years of newsreel footage, A Trip Down Memory Lane was Lipsett's first pure collage film, composed exclusively from stock image and sound from the NFB bins. Continuing his process of excavation, mediation and transformation, the film constitutes a brief audiovisual tour of the post-war technocracy. "Another incisive look at human might, majesty, and mayhem," reads the NFB catalogue description. "The filmmaker calls this a time capsule, but his arrangement of pictures makes it almost explosive. There are hundreds of items, once front-page stuff, but all wryly grotesque when seen in this reshuffle of the past."

Arthur Lipsett
1964 | 10 min | B/W | 16mm

Described as "A wry commentary on machine-dominated man" and as "fragments of a prophesy," 21-87 is filled with dystopian symbolism. The film conveys Lipsett's concern for an increasingly de-humanized civilization, foreshadowing his embryonic agoraphobia and subsequent withdrawal from public life. 21-87 concludes with "a good-hearted friendly voice" repeating a line from earlier in the film, which encapsulates Lipsett's view of social conformity: "Somebody walks up and you say, 'Your number is 21-87, isn't it?' Boy does that person really smile." One of his most successful pieces, 21-87 received Second Prize at the 1964 Palo Alto Film-Makers Festival in California, where Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising (1962) and Bruce Conner's Cosmic Ray (1963) finished first and third respectively; the title, 21-87 later served as Princess Leia's cell number in Star Wars (1977).

Free Fall
Arthur Lipsett
1964 | 9 min | B/W | 16mm

Free Fall features dazzling pixilation, in-camera superimpositions, percussive tribal music, syncopated rhythms and ironic juxtapositions. Using a brisk "single-framing" technique, Lipsett attempts to create a synesthesic experience through the intensification of image and sound. Citing the film theorist Sigfreud Kracauer, Lipsett writes, "Throughout this psychophysical reality, inner and outer events intermingle and fuse with each other – 'I cannot tell whether I am seeing or hearing – I feel taste, and smell sound – it's all one – I myself am the tone.'" Incidentally, Free Fall was intended as a collaboration with the American composer John Cage, modeled on his system of chance operations. However, Cage subsequently withdrew his participation fearing Lipsett would attempt to control and thereby undermine the aleatory organization of audio and visuals.

Arthur Lipsett
1968 | 24 min | B/W | 16 mm

Completed during a period of declining institutional support and increased psychological stress, Fluxes is notably longer and more diffuse than Lipsett's previous films. Writing on Fluxes, Andrew Munger observes that "the military motif, religious rhetoric and newsreel footage of the trial of 'final solution' architect Adolf Eichmann, accompanied by dialogue from a trashy 1950s science fiction film, collides history and popular culture into… 'a phantasmagoria of nothing.'" The film is Lipsett's most scathing, pessimistic work, and represents a metaphorical emptying out of the NFB trim bin.

More info: