21-87 by Arthur Lipsett, National Film Board of Canada
So here’s something.
This is a film called 21-87, by noted MontrÃ©al avant-garde film-maker Arthur Lipsett. While he was working as an editor and illustrator at the NFB (back when the NFB was quite literally laying the foundation of Canadian cinematic arts), he created an apparently mesmerizing collage of diverse audio recordings he had collected over the years and weaved it into film. He combined stock footage he found on the cutting room floor of the NFB along with his own footage of various urban scenes from the city streets of New York and Montreal. The result is a rather impressive short film I too feel compelled to watch several more times (though that’s largely because I’m tired and think I’m missing something – film criticism is not my forte, I’m still astounded Vaudeville fell to the Talkies. But I digress…)
Like too many great Canadian artists Lipsett was way too far ahead of his time and committed suicide two weeks shy of his 50th birthday largely unknown and under appreciated. But he did have a profound and lasting impact on a young George Lucas (as well as Stanley Kubric; Lipsett was offered a chance to create the trailer for Dr. Strangelove but declined. What Kubric ultimately produced was heavily inspired by Lipsett).
Lucas credits the inspiration for his idea of ‘The Force’ to a specific moment in the film when the word is mentioned, in the decontextualized snippet of an apparently spiritual conversation (at 3:51).
But it is the imagery that caught my attention at that moment. The old man feeding the pigeons is doing so in Phillips Square, and is sandwiched between shots of a flock of pigeons soaring above Dorchester Square, in such a fashion that it looks almost like the same birds jumped from one cut to another, sweeping from left to right. A character of an old man with a hat, at first feeding pigeons and well dressed, then disheveled yet holding a bird in his hands, continues this micro-story arc through what seems to be several different pieces of film. That’s what George Lucas was looking at when he began to conceive The Force, a belief and pseudo-spiritual plot device that has inspired some 400,000 Brits to describe themselves as Jedi, making Jedi the fourth largest reported religion in the United Kingdom (there are more reported Jedi in the UK than Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews; you can’t make this shit up.)
You can read as much into this as you like, I just think it’s neat that George Lucas, the man who created one of the most enduring, popular and lucrative films of all time was thinking up The Force while watching a crazy old man play in pigeons in one of my favourite city parks.
Also it should be stated that Dorchester Square looks really good but, as I suppose I am somewhat unaccustomed to seeing my city in black and white, I found the textures and character of the buildings facing the square (all of which are still there and just as prominent today, they nonetheless seem more severe and imposing. In one instance the Dominion Square Building looking like a cloudy backdrop quickly coming into focus as a detailed wall of windows. The glass and slate CIBC Tower almost appears as a solid mass, and in the background the Cathedral looms large and ominous, as if viewed through a fog.
Yet in the foreground there are quaint and relaxing scenes we could quite literally go see in real time any old day of the week during the more temperate months. Dorchester Square still has possibly crazy old men talking to and feeding the pigeons. In Phillips Square, by contrast, a newspaper-hawking dwarf handles such affairs. Plus que Ã§a change, eh?
What do you think of 21-87?