A Trip Down Memory Lane (1965)

In 1965 Lipsett filmed a series of psychology lectures at McGill University in Montreal (25) and directed A Trip Down Memory Lane (1965). 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. Continuing his process of excavation, mediation and transformation, the film constitutes a brief audiovisual tour of the post-war technocracy. In his notes “for [producer] Donald Brittain in order to communicate to him some basic thinking” on the film, Lipsett writes “As science grows, religious belief seems to have diminished”, adding that, “The new machines (of every description) are now invested with spiritual qualities. They have become ritualistic implements.” (26) Working from a by-then familiar repertoire of images, A Trip Down Memory Lane pieces together footage of a beauty contest and a religious procession; failed airflight, automotive and science experiments; callous animal testing; skyscraper construction; military paraphernalia; John D. Rockefeller and scenes of leisure; Richard Nixon and scenes of war; blimps, hot air balloons, a sword swallower. (Senses of Cinema)

21-87 (1963)

For Canadians, one scene in Star Wars is of particular interest. As the movie’s hero, Luke Skywalker, prepares to rescue Princess Leia from the Death Star, the roguish Han Solo informs him where she is to be found in the bowels of the space station’s prison. “We gotta find out which cell this princess of yours is in. Here it is: 21-87,” the mercenary pilot of the Millennium Falcon barks. (CBC News Indepth: Star Wars: the Canadian Angle)

Few films are as movingly bleak as Arthur Lipsett’s little-known 21-87 (1963). This stunning evocation of dehumanization juxtaposes found footage from several cities. Cuts between images that don’t match – crowds seen from different camera angles or under different light – subtly express alienation. The editing also creates surrealistic illusions – for example, jumping from a man looking upward to an image of a monkey. Shots of anonymous crowds are combined with shots of people playing roles central to the era – models at a fashion show, a man in a space suit, kids shaking like automatons to (one assumes) rock ‘n’ roll. Such identity-alternating roles steal the idea of the soul; everyone in the film seems tragically removed from any possible authenticity. Lipsett uses sound ironically; at midpoint and again at the film’s end a voice seems to declare that everyone is proud to have a number rather than a name, announcing, “Somebody walks up and they say, ‘Your number is 21-87, isn’t it?’ Boy does that person really smile.” The fear of being reduced to a number was more intense in 1963 than today in the age of PINs, and the voice on the sound track equates identity with a number that’s as arbitrary as the rag-and-bone shop footage from which Lipsett assembled his film. Not surprisingly, the Canadian Film Board, for which it was made, hated it and later threw most of the prints in the garbage. Lipsett committed suicide in 1986. (Ubuweb: Arthur Lipsett)

Very Nice, Very Nice (1961)

When Very Nice, Very Nice was released in 1961, it was immediately embraced by the new generation of hipsters, academics and artists. The film is sharp, jazzy, confrontational and darkly comic. It announces itself straight off with opening shots of office buildings, followed by an off-screen voice intoning, “In this city marches an army whose motto is—bwah, bwah, bwah.” Those three blasts of a car horn burst the documentary balloon; rapidly, we’re shown two signs, “No” and “Buy.” Lipsett has playfully set up the audience, awakening them from their torpor of receptivity and challenging them to engage with his film. Marching bands, drumbeats, old-time piano rolls and jazz music highlight a soundtrack made up of a collage of audio material. Moving in counterpoint are visuals that range from still photographs of individuals, images of crowds, rocket ships, the hydrogen bomb and various iconic historical figures.(NFB: Arthur Lipsett – Focus on Animation)