As a documentary short, Universe is undoubtedly interesting as a look at the history of astronomy. The expectation of life (or, at least, vegetation) on Mars, for example.
However, as a film, it’s an obvious precursor it pretty much every science fiction film made after it. Its opening seems so much like something out of 2001–the majesty and grandeur of space set to emotive classical music–it’s stunning to discover it predates that film by eight years.
Directors Kroitor and Low do an outstanding job not just composing their shots, but keeping the picture moving. It does start to drag a little at the twenty-minute mark (of twenty-seven) simply because they haven’t established the point… talking about the discovery of the universe.
The shots showing mundane human activities are also beautiful. Tom Daly’s excellent editing of the film is an essential component.
Universe is a visual feast.
Directed by Roman Kroitor and Colin Low; written by Kroitor; edited by Tom Daly; music by Eldon Rathburn; production designers, Sidney Goldsmith and Low; produced by Daly and Low; released by The National Film Board of Canada.
Narrated by Stanley Jackson.
The title credit card of 21-87 is a human skull and the second clip (the film is a collection of somewhat unrelated clips edited together) is of an autopsy.
It’s hard not to think about mortality while watching it, especially once the accompanying soundtrack—usually interviews unrelated to the clips—starts talking about religion. The short enters its second part when one interviewee equates nature to spirituality. Of course, there’s no nature in 21-87, just city.
The short’s often disconcerting because many people stare directly into the camera, which makes one wonder about Lipsett’s filmmaking process, not what he’s trying to do with the presentation of the sound and image. He’s very successful in showing how sound is essential to taking an image in context.
He also has an excellent scene at a fashion show.
But he’s never able to force the viewer to suspend the process questions.
Directed by Arthur Lipsett; produced by Tom Daly and Colin Low; released by The National Film Board of Canada.
Very Nice, Very Nice is a collage of sound clips and photographs where Lipsett discusses the vapidity of an uninformed, disinterested populace. Of course, Lipsett made the film in 1961 and in Canada, but it’s just as relevant today as it was then… in fact, it’s probably timeless.
As an artifact, it goes to show the general public was ever really particularly more informed or interested in being informed than they are today.
Lipsett mostly uses stills, but does include some motion footage from an atomic explosion and a rocket firing into the sky. The atom bomb is, of course, a distressing image. But the rocket is not. In fact, it comes during Very Nice’s most upbeat moments, possibly because of the background music.
The short’s successful because Lipsett isn’t trying to put forth a thesis. He’s ruminating the modern condition. There’s no ominous or foreboding ending.
It simply stops.
Directed by Arthur Lipsett; produced by Tom Daly and Colin Low; released by the National Film Board of Canada.