Arthur Lipsett

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Arthur Lipsett
Arthur Lipsett.jpg
Arthur Lipsett in the 1960s
Born (1936-05-13)May 13, 1936
Montreal, Canada
Died May 1, 1986(1986-05-01) (aged 49)
Montreal, Canada
Occupation Film director
Film editor
Years active 1958–1970; 1978

Arthur Lipsett (May 13, 1936 – May 1, 1986) was a Canadian avant-garde director of short collage films.

Born in Montreal into a Jewish family, Lipsett saw his mother, an immigrant from Kiev, commit suicide when he was 10 years of age. His father remarried without consulting Arthur and his daughter, Marian. Despite his difficult past, Lipsett excelled as a student at the École des beaux-arts de Montréal, where his mentor, Arthur Lismer, recommended him to the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). Lipsett joined the NFB in 1958 as an editor.[1]

Lipsett's particular passion was sound. He collected pieces of sound from a variety of sources and fit them together to create an interesting auditory sensation. After playing one of these creations to friends, they suggested that Lipsett combine images with the sound collage. The result is a 7-minute-long film Very Nice, Very Nice which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Short Subject, Live Action Subjects in 1962. Despite not winning the Oscar, this film brought Lipsett considerable praise from critics and directors. Stanley Kubrick was one of Lipsett's fans, writing him to say that the film was "the most imaginative and brilliant uses of the movie screen and soundtrack that I have ever seen."[2] Kubrick also asked him to create a trailer for his upcoming movie Dr. Strangelove. Lipsett declined Kubrick's offer. Kubrick went on to direct the trailer himself; however, Lipsett's influence on Kubrick is clearly visible in the released trailer.[citation needed]

In 1965, Lipsett completed A Trip Down Memory Lane, utilizing newsreel footage from over a fifty-year period, and intended as a kind of cinematic time capsule.[3]

Lipsett's success allowed him some freedom at the NFB, but as his films became more bizarre, this freedom quickly disappeared. In his later years, he suffered from psychological problems that progressed in severity. Lipsett committed suicide in 1986, two weeks before his 50th birthday.[4][5]

Influence on George Lucas[edit]

Lipsett's meticulous editing and combination of audio and visual montage was both groundbreaking and influential. His film 21-87 was a profound influence on director George Lucas, who stated that it was "the kind of movie I wanted to make — a very off the wall, abstract kind of film."[2] Lucas used thematic approaches from 21–87 in THX 1138, his Star Wars films and also American Graffiti. Lucas has said that his use of the term "The Force" in Star Wars was "an echo of that phrase in 21-87".[6] Lucas never met Lipsett, but tributes to 21–87 appear in several places in Star Wars. For example, the holding cell of Princess Leia in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope on the Death Star is cell No. 2187.[4] The reference was continued in the 2015 movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with a character named FN-2187.[7]

Works about Lipsett[edit]

Lipsett has been the subject of three documentary films. In 2006, a feature-length documentary about Lipsett, Remembering Arthur, was produced by Public Pictures in association with the NFB, Bravo! and TVOntario.[8] The Arthur Lipsett Project: A Dot on the Histomap is a 2007 NFB documentary directed by Eric Gaucher.[9] In 2010, the NFB produced the short animated documentary Lipsett Diaries, directed by Theodore Ushev and written by Chris Robinson.[10]

Amelia Does, a consulting producer on Remembering Arthur, has published the biography Do Not Look Away: The Life of Arthur Lipsett and is a contributing editor for an upcoming anthology of essays about Lipsett’s films.[11][12]


  1. ^ "Arthur Lipsett Biography". Focus on Animation. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 18 September 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Hassannia, Tina (2 March 2016). "Colin Low, Don Owen and how the NFB's Unit B changed Canadian cinema". CBC Arts. Retrieved 2 March 2016. 
  3. ^ Kashmere, Brett (May 2004). "Arthur Lipsett". Senses of Cinema. ISSN 1443-4059. 
  4. ^ a b Brown, Dan (September 8, 2004). "Star Wars: the Canadian angle". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved December 26, 2009. 
  5. ^ Cahute, Larissa (March 10, 2011). "Genie Awards: Finding the 'crazy manic sides'". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved March 14, 2011. 
  6. ^ Wired 13.05: Life After Darth
  7. ^ "FN-2187: why John Boyega's stormtrooper number holds the key to Star Wars". The Telegraph. 
  8. ^ "Remembering Arthur". Documentary film. Retrieved May 22, 2011. 
  9. ^ "The Arthur Lipsett Project: A Dot on the Histomap". Documentary film. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved May 22, 2011. 
  10. ^ "Lipsett Diaries". Film website. National Film Board of Canada. Archived from the original on October 10, 2010. Retrieved October 27, 2010. 
  11. ^ Does, Amelia. "Free Fall: Lipsett is the Shaman, Film is the Ritual". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 26 January 2014. 
  12. ^ Fournier, Claude (28 February 2012). "AMELIA ET CE MYSTÉRIEUX M. ARTHUR". (in French). Montreal. Retrieved 26 January 2014. 

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