Arthur Lipsett

Resident archivist Jack Dangers examines the extraordinary stock of filmmaker and audio collage creator, Arthur Lipsett

There’s just one record of Arthur Lipsett’s audio work, ‘Soundtracks’,  on Global A Records, which was released in 2005. Only 500 copies were pressed, but you can still get one quite cheaply.

Lipsett was a Canadian filmmaker who made avant-garde pop art films.  He was born in Montreal in 1936 and had a really traumatic childhood, witnessing his mother’s death by suicide when he was just 10 years old. 

I discovered his stuff when I was a kid, off school sick, watching educational TV. They showed one of his films – I don’t remember which one, just that it was really weird and in black and white. It stuck in my head and, years later, I was able to find his work on YouTube. 

Lipsett went to the École des Beaux-arts de Montréal, and one of his tutors recommended him to the National Film Board Of Canada, which he joined in 1958. He would raid the bins of the editing studios at night, pulling out scraps of film and audio to edit together with his own footage. His 1961 film ‘Very Nice, Very Nice’ was made like that, and was nominated for an Academy Award. Stanley Kubrick and George Lucas were really impressed by it. Kubrick asked him to make the trailer for ‘Dr Strangelove’ (an offer he turned down), and Lucas peppered his own films with references to Lipsett’s 1963 film ‘21-87’, including the idea of “the Force”.

Lipsett said that his work was “neither underground nor conventional”, and it led to some difficulties in his relationship with the National Film Board Of Canada, especially as his films got darker and weirder as time went on.

The soundtracks are not really music, more found sound and musique concrète with some electronic elements, like time stretching. The time stretching effect comes at the end of the film ‘A Trip Down Memory Lane’,  and it’s incredible. He was doing it before there was any available technology to create that effect.

He quit the Canadian Film Board once in 1970, was invited back in 1978, and left again in the same year. His leaving letter stated: “I, Arthur Lipsett have developed a phobia of sound tape. Also, my creative ability in the film field has dissapeared [sic]. There is no way to explain this and the result is that I cannot continue to work for the government. Sincerely, Arthur Lipsett.”

He was later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and took his own life in 1986, aged 49.

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