Thursday 13 October 2011

The Force, George Lucas and Arthur Lipsett

Somebody at work was let go. They worked in another department at the other end of the building. A member of my team commented they were somewhat shocked as they had seen and talked to the person in question that very morning and then, just a few hours later, the notice goes around about so and so seeking opportunities elsewhere, code word for getting canned. It's disturbing. It upsets the balance and alters the order. Even though everyone else is unaffected, it makes one think about their own job and whether or not they themselves could one day have a pink slip delivered to their desk.

I read a story in the newspaper about somebody I know being hurt or killed. The news on television shows a video clip of somebody famous being hurt or killed. I think about the coverage of the 9/11 attacks which struck very, very close to home.

I say that all of these events are a "disturbance in the Force". If you're a fan of Star Wars, you should immediately recognise the reference to the first movie of the series, A New Hope. Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin demonstrates the power of the Death Star by destroying an entire planet, Alderaan, the home of Princess Leia. In a subsequent scene, Obi-Wan says, "I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced". (Wikipedia)

While I use the expression a "disturbance in the Force" with a touch of humour, I am serious about the idea of how events happening elsewhere or happening to other people can affect me psychologically. Somebody gets fired; am I going to be fired? Somebody gets killed in a car accident; am I going to get killed in a car accident? Some extraordinary cataclysmic event like 9/11 or the shooting rampage at Columbine takes place and it completely upsets my world and the sense of order I feel in it. Is that horrible thing somehow going to do something to me even though I may be hundreds of miles away and completely uninvolved?

Wikipedia defines "the Force" as "a binding, metaphysical and ubiquitous power in the fictional universe of the Star Wars galaxy". Okay, George Lucas has created a piece of entertainment but anybody is going to easily see in this bit of science fiction a concept which could be interpreted as something religious. Many see God as a being - "Hi God. How ya doin'?" (I'm being admittedly flippant) - but many go beyond the idea of single consciousness to some sort of universal order; God isn't a being, God is the universe itself.

This idea has been explored over and over again by all the great philosophers but where exactly did George Lucas get this idea?

The Montreal-born Arthur Lipsett (1936-1986) while working for the National Film Board of Canada produced a short film of nine minutes called 21-87 assembled from scraps of film and audio he scavenged from other people's documentaries. Wired magazine quoted Lucas as saying, "21-87 had a very powerful effect on me. It was very much the kind of thing that I wanted to do. I was extremely influenced by that particular movie." Having never heard of Lipsett and his experiments first with collages of audio then with collages of audio and film, I immediately thought of the White Album by the Beatles and their odd sound experiment called Revolution 9.

Wikipedia, in quoting Wired, states:

One of the audio sources Lipsett sampled for 21-87 was a conversation between artificial intelligence pioneer Warren S. McCulloch and Roman Kroitor, a cinematographer who went on to develop IMAX. In the face of McCulloch's arguments that living beings are nothing but highly complex machines, Kroitor insists that there is something more: "Many people feel that in the contemplation of nature and in communication with other living things, they become aware of some kind of force, or something, behind this apparent mask which we see in front of us, and they call it God." When asked if this was the source of "the Force," Lucas confirms that his use of the term in Star Wars was "an echo of that phrase in 21-87." The idea behind it, however, was universal: "Similar phrases have been used extensively by many different people for the last 13,000 years to describe the 'life force,'" he says.

Uploaded by cellardoorfive on Dec 29, 2011
Arthur Lipsett - 21-87

Final Word
Wired Magazine notes how Lucas pays homage to Lipsett's 21-87 in his films. In the first Star Wars, when Luke and Han Solo blast into the detention center to rescue Princess Leia, they discover that the stormtroopers are holding her as a prisoner in cell 2187.

While I haven't seen the original Star Wars film, A New Hope, in years, I still make reference to this "disturbance in the Force" in talking about how upsetting events can affect me psychologically. As with Obi-wan "sensing" the destruction of the planet Alderaan, I "feel" something when I hear disturbing news. I'm not saying I'm intuitive and I'm not saying I have a sixth sense. I am trying to point out how unsettling events have a ripple effect beyond those directly affected by said events.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to my desk to see if my pink slip has arrived.


Wikipedia: Force (Star Wars)
The Force is a binding, metaphysical and ubiquitous power in the fictional universe of the Star Wars galaxy created by George Lucas. Mentioned in the first film in the series, it is integral to all subsequent incarnations of Star Wars, including the expanded universe of comic books, novels, and video games. Within the franchise, it is the object of the Jedi and Sith monastic orders.

Lucas has attributed the origins of "The Force" to a 1963 abstract film by Arthur Lipsett.

Wikipedia: 21-87
21-87 is a 1963 Canadian abstract film created by Arthur Lipsett that lasts 9 minutes and 33 seconds.

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

Wikipedia: Lipsett Diaries
Lipsett Diaries (French: Les journaux de Lipsett) is a 2010 short animated documentary about the life and art of troubled experimental filmmaker Arthur Lipsett, animated and directed by Theodore Ushev and written by Chris Robinson. The 14-minute film was produced by the National Film Board of Canada in Montreal, where Lipsett had worked from 1958 to 1972, before committing suicide in 1986. The film is narrated by Xavier Dolan.

Wikipedia: Six degrees of separation
Six degrees of separation refers to the idea that everyone is on average approximately six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person on Earth, so that a chain of, "a friend of a friend" statements can be made, on average, to connect any two people in six steps or fewer. It was originally set out by Frigyes Karinthy and popularized by a play written by John Guare.

[Funny, isn't it? I started out wanting to discover where George Lucas came up with this phrase "The Force" and ended up discovering Arthur Lipsett. Just another two degrees and I'm going to find a link to you. Yes, you, the person reading these words!]

Wired - May 2005
Life After Darth by Steve Silberman
George Lucas was born to make underground films. Then a little movie called Star Wars lured him to the dark side. Can the father of the blockbuster really rediscover his avant-garde soul?


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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There's so much scary news these days it's hard not to think it couldn't happen to you.