"The Literary and Artistic heritage of humanity should be used for partisan propaganda purposes." - Gil J. Wolman
“A lot of people who call themselves artists now are cultural critics who are using instruments other than just written language or spoken language to communicate their critical perspective.”
Sunday, April 22, 2007
(Recycled Cinema pioneer Arthur Lipsett)
“Narrative is the artistic structure of technocracy. The cinema we need, the cinema that combats technocracy will, therefore, be non-narrative.” -- R. Bruce Elder "The Cinema We Need."
Seeing Arthur Lipsett's "Very Nice, Very Nice" was as impacting as the first time I saw Bruce Conner's "A Movie." This work of recycled cinema made in 1962 uses Eisenstein's idea of vertical montage, "the moment-to-moment juxtaposition of a film's audio and visual tracks" (Brett Kashmere in Senses of Cinema). Lipsett mixes sound and footage for his portrait of 1950s consumerism and social apathy. While watching I couldn't help but notice the image of a crowded movie theater watching a 3D film used on the cover of Guy Debord's "Society of the Spectacle." However, Debord's text was published in 1967 . Is it possible Debord looked to this film as resource for the defining work of the Situationist International?
(The now iconic cover of Debord's classic text, seen five years before in Lipsett's film)
The film subtly but stealthily depicts social apathy, rampant consumerism and the very dark underside of the seemingly innocuous pop culture that Debord so despised. Reading more about Lipsett and the NFB's abandonment of his work I was again reminded of how most of our avant-garde film innovators are shunned by the establishment and ignored by film critics because of their inevitable unbankability. Too bad Lipsett hadn't made this more recently--it may have become a viral video phenomena, but perhaps that's just wishful thinking.
It is hard to not be floored by seeing the origin of so many techniques I've seen in later recycled cinema: the ambiguous layering of audio that seems at first only tenuously related to the images, the sophisticated blending of multiple sources to create many contrasting ideological conclusions, the unity of style and content best described by Lipsett's illustration of the "dissolving phantasmagoria of a world."
In Brett Kashmere's wonderful essay on Lipsett, he writes that "Kubrick described Very Nice, Very Nice (1961) as “one of the most imaginative and brilliant uses of the movie screen and soundtrack that I have ever seen.” Kubrick was so enthused with the film he invited Lipsett to create a trailer for Dr. Strangelove, an offer Lipsett refused."
All of these obstacles compounded and Lipsett became mentally unstable. "Lipsett began wearing winter coats in the summer and would tape his fingers into Buddhist mantra position for protection from phantom voices. In 1982 he was diagnosed with chronic paranoid schizophrenia. After numerous failed suicide attempts (which he dubbed his “little experiments”), he took his own life in April 1986, shortly before his 50th birthday" (Brett Kashmere "Arthur Lipsett")
I hope you all enjoy his film as much as I did--and if you know where to find more please let me know.