Winnipeg School of Communication

Mosaic Perspectives on Experimental Film

Jarrett Cole   /   December 31, 2019   /   Video

Arthur Lipsett’s first film, Very Nice, Very Nice (1961) creates a montage, or mosaic representation, of the frantic nature of the electric age and the anxieties that would be experienced throughout the remainder of the 1960’s. Through the art form of experimental film, a director does not need to adhere to the traditional techniques of classic narrative cinema that serve as the foundation of most Hollywood productions to create an experience of meaning. Lipsett uses a sequence of stills, often placed in a rapid fire and jerky succession, to produce a cinematic portraiture of his times. Combined with random voice recordings and cityscape sound effects, Lipsett’s experimental film creates an audio-visual montage that transcends narrative cinema’s story development in an effort to more adequately present the growing pressures felt by a post-industrial society.

Produced one year before the publication of Marshall McLuhan’s Gutenberg Galaxy, and three years before Understanding Media respectively, Lipsett’s short experimental film can be viewed as pre-empting the work of McLuhan’s media criticism throughout the remainder of the decade. In fact, it seems as though Lipsett was able to articulate - through the medium of experimental film, the very perspective that McLuhan would later come to develop by analyzing how new electronic mass media technologies had begun to intensify, proliferate, and highly influence modernity, creating in their wake a frantic state of world affairs. Lipsett’s film presciently portrays the mosaic approach that McLuhan would explore through his collaboration with Quentin Fiore in the experimental paperback The Medium is the Massage, and it’s audio recording montage (of the same name), that was released as a vinyl LP.

A mosaic is commonly understood to be an art form that combines smaller units into a cohesive whole. When the concept is applied to film, individual frames, as well as brief shots, can be sequenced together to create an effect of a bigger picture, or meta-idea. Unlike the techniques relied upon by Hollywood directors, experimental film has the ability to use the visual symbolism of its components, which at times could be completely unrelated, to create an experience of a cohesive message. Lipsett’s use of non-diegetic dialogue and sound effects, coupled to the almost random sequencing of stills (sourced from found footage at the NFB), delivers a critical perspective on consumer culture and the disorientating nature of the modern urban environment circa 1961.

In the spirit of experimental filmmaking, one could replace Lipsett’s sound track with the audio version of McLuhan and Fiore’s The Medium is the Massage, to experience the resonance between their shared critiques of modernity. I experimented with the synchronizing of Very Nice, Very Nice with the auxiliary sound track of The Medium is the Massage while writing this blog entry and found the audio-visual union to mutually enhance the themes found within the content of each respective medium.