Tuesday, May 14, 2024 at 7:30pm
Five Films by Arthur Lipsett

361 Stagg Street, Suite 407, Brooklyn

Very Nice, Very Nice, 1961, 16mm, 7 mins
21-87, 1964, 16mm, 10 mins
Free Fall, 1964, 16mm, 9 mins
A Trip Down Memory Lane, 1965, 16mm, 13 mins
Fluxes, 1968, 16mm, 24 mins

The films of Arthur Lipsett are softly apocalyptic assemblages of midcentury images and sounds—documentaries, street photographs, advertisements, interviews. In the classic Very Nice, Very Nice, hundreds of purloined moments spin past the eye at a jet-age clip: crowds march, highways sprawl, an atom bomb drops, children play, wrestlers grapple, audiences guffaw. Equally magpied, the soundtracks draw heavily on dialog from psychiatric films and religious oratory, continuously circling back to existential themes, collaged with jazz, spirituals, and ritual music. In 21-87, scientific experiments on monkeys jostle against fashion shows and circus tricks, while A Trip Down Memory Lane combines a beauty pageant with military drumbeats and WWII naval maneuvers with Gregorian chants. Taken as a whole, Lipsett’s films offer a sui generis vision of Cold War culture, processing its contradictions and absurdities through the collisions of montage.

A famously eccentric character who never fit the myth of Canadian normality, Lipsett started working for the National Film Board in the era of direct cinema, hired as an animator just out of art school. Very Nice, Very Nice, his first film, began as a sound project, after Lipsett crafted an audiotape composition out of discards from the NFB’s cutting-room bins, only later thinking to set these sounds to images. This oddball movie by an unknown 25-year-old seemed to strike a nerve, and was exhibited widely, playing on national TV, screening before Buñuel’s Viridiana during its New York run, and eventually being nominated for an Academy Award. Stanley Kubrick wrote Lipsett after seeing Very Nice, Very Nice, and told him it was “one of the most imaginative and brilliant uses of the movie screen and soundtrack that I have ever seen,” later asking Lipsett to edit the trailer for Dr. Strangelove, a job he refused. Lipsett’s interests lay elsewhere, as his proposals for films attest. He described 21-87 as “a 10 min. shock-state which the spectator must grapple with, continuously counter-check and question” and a “search for an expression on film of hightened [sic] inner states which could transend [sic] experiences of the known world.” His notes for A Trip Down Memory Lane include quotations from Dostoyevsky, Martin Buber, and Nietzsche, stating that one of the film’s main themes would be “questions of eternity.”

Despite his renown, support dwindled over the decade, and Lipsett’s psychological stability declined dramatically. Brett Kashmere describes Fluxes, one of Lipsett’s final projects at the NFB, as his “most scathing, pessimistic work” a film that “represents a metaphorical emptying out of the NFB trim bin.” Lipsett made a few more films in the 70s but later succumbed to paranoid schizophrenia, ending his own life just before his 50th birthday in 1986.

In these earlier films, however, Lipsett had imagined an ecstatic release from the madness of everyday life; his working title for Very Nice, Very Nice was Strangely Elated. For Free Fall, he proposed that “the spectator is transported into a world beyond normal consciousness and perception where factual truth becomes irrelevant,” hoping that “the spectator will be presented with a psychophysical continuity.— An open universe not a closed one.”

Tickets - Pay what you can ($10 suggested donation), available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm. No entry 10 minutes after start of show.

Print of Very Nice, Very Nice courtesy of the Reserve Film and Video Collection of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts; prints of 21-87, Free Fall, and A Trip Down Memory Lane courtesy of Sebastian Di Trolio.