Remembering Arthur Martin Lavut

This is an achingly sad portrait of Arthur Lipsett, the Canadian experimental filmmaker who shot to international fame with his 1961 Oscar-nominee Very Nice, Very Nice and subsequently sank like a stone into mental illness and incoherence. No experts are on hand to tell you exactly how important was Lipsett’s achievement or its formal qualities, instead you have impressions of his life and work from various friends, lovers and hangers-on. There are drawbacks to this approach, and compatriots of mine rued the emphasis on his decline over his accomplishments, but there’s no denying the personal investment (and personal defeats) of all the people collected to tell his story and theirs. The clips of his films — manic montage experiments that combine found footage, still photographs or documentary (or some combination thereof) into jarring dialectical assaults — make him seem like he’s worth the effort, which makes his fall into depression all the more jarring. Even worse is the contradictory information his compatriots give: a few people point fingers at who could have been instrumental in his decline, and the impression is given that his personal environment had been poisoned by envious parasites and opportunistic scenesters. Leaving aside the responsibility of the NFB, which curtailed his work there as being beyond its boxy documentary mandate, the picture painted is one of sadness not just for Lipsett but the various confederates whose lives clearly haven’t turned out the way the explosion of the ’60s might have suggested. I don’t know if this is the most appropriate way to remember Arthur, but it sure made me want to remember his work, and I suspect it will inspire similar feelings in unfamiliar audiences. (Public Pictures)