Experimental filmmaker

Arthur Lipsett

Growing up in suburban Montreal in the 40s, the son of Russian Jewish parents, Lipsett’s childhood was traumatic. As a young boy, he had watched his mother walk out into the snow and drink rat poison, dying days later. By the mid-50s, Lipsett was studying art at Montreal’s Musée des beaux-arts, under the wing of expressionist painter Arthur Lismer, a member of the influential “Group of Seven” art movement. On graduating, a recommendation from his mentor led to work as an editor at the National Film Board, based in Montreal’s Ville St-Laurent.

As the evening crept in and his co-workers began to leave, he would embark on bizarre experiments until dawn – chain-smoking and raiding the garbage, he would dig out scraps of sound and visuals, and recycle them into collages that used the cinema screen as their canvas. In 1961, the results of Lipsett’s frenzied late-night scavenging surfaced in the short film Very Nice, Very Nice (1961), which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Short Subject, Live Action Subjects in 1962. Despite not winning the Oscar, this film brought Lipsett considerable praise from critics and directors, including Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas, and Guy Maddin. Like some finely-tuned antenna, it portrayed Lipsett’s perception of the universe in all its absurdity, laced, as it was, with pitch-black humour. Influenced by the Beats and the cut-up technique that William Burroughs pioneered, his images of cityscapes, crowds, circus acts and hydrogen bombs jostled for space alongside a soundtrack of random conversation, heavy breathing, chanting and car horns.

Lipsett followed up with Free Fall (1964), inspired by a Dylan Thomas poem and intended as collaboration with avant-garde composer John Cage, employing his use of “chance music”. Next came the time-capsule A Trip Down Memory Lane (1965), followed by Fluxes (1969) and N-Zone (1970), each film becoming progressively darker. At the same time, Lipsett’s mental health was rapidly deteriorating. He resigned from the Film Board in 1978, and began to grow increasingly paranoid with the onset of chronic schizophrenia. After a series of failed attempts at suicide he took his own life in 1986, just before his 50th birthday.

 (Biography extracted from Dazed Magazine)

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