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Arthur Lipsett

Arthur Lipsett

Arthur Lipsett is one of the few filmmakers—alongside Alanis Obomsawin, Kathleen Shannon, Norman McLaren and Willie Dunn—who will forever reside in the pantheon of NFB artists. One of the most enigmatic yet celebrated directors who ever worked at the Board, Lipsett was born in Montreal on May 13, 1936, and died in the same city only 50 years later. He received a credit for animation, photography, sound recording/mixing, scriptwriting, producing, directing or editing on a total of 26 NFB titles. 

Lipsett directed 13 films, all now available on nfb.ca for free. His body of work can be divided into two streams: collage/found-footage films and academic research films.

The first group includes Hors-d’oeuvre (1960), Very Nice, Very Nice (1961), 21-87 (1963), Free Fall (1964), A Trip Down Memory Lane (1965), Fluxes (1968) and N-Zone (1970). These films brought Lipsett recognition across the globe; Very Nice, Very Nice, for example, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Subject and praised by filmmaking giants like Stanley Kubrick and George Lucas. Lipsett’s early work could arguably be considered the precursor to a new wave of compilation, found-footage and archival films that emerged the same decade (e.g., Santiago Alvarez’s 1965 film Now and his 1967 film L.B.J.). This in turn spawned a popular fictional subgenre, as seen in cult movies such as Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and The Blair Witch Project (1999).

The second group of Lipsett films is composed of Fear and Horror, Animal Altruism, The Puzzle of Pain, Animals and Psychology and Perceptual Learning, all of which were released in 1965. Part of a series called Psychology Topics for Discussion Groups, these five films are academic examinations of how emotions and behaviours manifest and differ among various animals. 

The only Lipsett film that doesn’t fit in either of these two categories is Experimental Film (1962), which takes the form of a discussion panel featuring world-renowned critics, whose opinions on experimental filmmaking are juxtaposed with excerpts from various films, including works by Jan Lenica, Norman McLaren and Lipsett himself.

To this day, Lipsett’s work and creative process—his instinctive approach and striking stream-of-consciousness montage technique—are shrouded in mystery, and his canonical films continue to inspire artists around the world. He has been the subject of recent documentaries such as Theodore Ushev’s Lipsett Diaries (2010) and Eric Gaucher’s The Arthur Lipsett Project: A Dot on the Histomap (2007).