29 January 2009

Once in a Lullaby

Filed under: Movies, Reflections — ktismatics @ 7:38 am

In my last post I mentioned having watched some very good student films at the university earlier this week. I emailed the filmmakers of my two favorites, asking them if they had put their films online, and if so whether it would be okay if I posted the link on Ktismatics. Last night Joshua Minor, creator of the film Once in a Lullaby, sent me the link to his movie, saying that he’d be happy with my putting it up on the blog. It’s a rather disturbing 5-minute re-envisioning of The Wizard of Oz; Josh says at the bottom of the video link that he thinks of his film as “a dream gone wrong.”

I’m getting ready to launch a new blog where I put up films, writing excerpts, music clips, etc., along with a video interview of the artist. So Josh says he’s willing to subject himself to my interview, which I hope to arrange for next week. Meanwhile, if you have any comments or questions about his movie I suspect Josh would reply if I let him know about your interest.

So, to see the video, click HERE.



  1. That film is really incredible. Beautiful, hallucinatory, dreamlike, gorgeously saturated, and the sound is amazing. Thanks for tracking it down. I’m really excited about your film blog! Now I’m going to watch the other film you posted. Just now getting time to get caught up.


    Comment by Kim Dot Dammit — 29 January 2009 @ 12:34 pm

  2. The colors and the soundtrack are good, but in what way exactly did the young film-maker make ”The Wizard of Oz” his OWN? This is more of a graphical design installation than a movie.


    Comment by parodycenter — 29 January 2009 @ 1:16 pm

  3. As Josh says in the text on the link, adapting an existing movie was the school assignment. I think he’s brought out the nightmarish qualities intrinsic to the scenes that we’ve become inured to by repetition and the happy-ever-after ending. I do know people who were terrified as children by The Wizard of Oz: I wonder if Josh was as well, and if that’s why he chose this particular film as his subject.


    Comment by ktismatics — 29 January 2009 @ 2:28 pm

  4. I think you’re right about the childhood fear thing. Wizard of Oz really does terrify children (though I never had a problem with it). The way Minor uses sound and extracts reptetive images creates a kind of unconscious dream-like atmosphere/experience. To me, the sound is critical to making it work. I see on his vimeo page that he encourages viewers to listen to the sound through headphones. I haven’t done that yet, but I bet it’s fun (especially with the lights out)! I saw a video installation at UCSD a while ago that included a film by Takeshi Murata that also manipulated existing cinema (Italian horror classic Black Sunday) to create an unconscious dream effect. I was mesmerized by it. (I wrote about it in this post: http://kdotdammit.livejournal.com/1401331.html)

    Besides all that, I just think it’s good to support young artists and their efforts, especially when their work happens to be something that appeals to me on multiple levels, which this little film does.


    Comment by Kim Dot Dammit — 29 January 2009 @ 3:14 pm

  5. I agree about the hypnotic nightmarish quality of Josh’s treatment here, KDD. I’m glad people are working on this kind of video artistry in school. When you go to the movies in America you get the sense that only foreign art-film auteurs know how to do the artsy stuff, but it’s not true.


    Comment by ktismatics — 29 January 2009 @ 3:47 pm

  6. It’s interesting because young people studying this kind of artistic expression in cinema can leave their stamp even in mainstream American cinema even if they individually never make it “big time” (e.g. get to direct their own film that gets distributed). I like to know about all the key players in making a film — cinematography, art direction, editing — and frequently they are the ones that can push a mainstream film into a more artistic experience. I read American Cinematographer regularly which discusses all the technical work behind making a film. The kind of work done in this little film could make a big difference in the quality of cinema that we see in the megaplex.


    Comment by Kim Dot Dammit — 29 January 2009 @ 4:11 pm

  7. I beg to differ on the issue, Clysmatics; I think this film doesn’t have a story, or a message, it’s an impressionistic description of the artist’s emotions vis-a-vis the Wizard of Oz. There is little intervention to alter the course of the story or to reinterpret it. There are numerous blurry parts that stain the experience because they’re just blurry and out-of-focus filmmaking does not equal artiness. It’s stretching it way bit though to say that the Wiz of Oz begs for such a reading, since in its original form, it’s neither a happily everafter narrative nor is it void of scary ambiguities. I thought the point of resampling was to re-read (”re-envision” is the term they’re using nowadays) old stuff in order to find its undeveloped potential for the future. No such thing takes place here. In my assessment this talent could be put to good use in cinematography or soundtrack editing, which also is his own stated desire.


    Comment by parodycenter — 29 January 2009 @ 6:16 pm

  8. KDD I distinctly remember reading David Lynch’s Dutch interview on Inland Empire; when asked whether his point was to display a series of images accessible only to him, he answered absolutely not and that the film has a definitive story, which you’re expected to access in non-linear ways. What I mean to say is that surrealism does not equal incoherence.


    Comment by parodycenter — 29 January 2009 @ 6:21 pm

  9. I don’t know if you grasped the fact that this was a school assignment, PC. What would you have done differently had you been assigned the task of giving the original Oz film an art-film look and feel? Assume you weren’t permitted to write any new dialogue or add any new scenes. It seems that you didn’t like the blurry out-of-focus segments, and on this score you have a point. I personally liked the stark brightness contrasts, the superimposed images, and the particular scenes selected to convey creepiness. And I also like the soundtrack, as KDD noted. I thought this was a successful demonstration of something that might be called “affect design.” I emailed Josh to notify him that discussion and disagreement have ensued, so we’ll see if his schedule and inclination bring him in for a conversation.


    Comment by ktismatics — 29 January 2009 @ 7:05 pm

  10. The assignment is a separate issue – I don’t like them on principle (because they restrict your freedom in advance) and here I wonder why the assigners want to cultivate resampling instead of encouraging the young artists’ personal/own visions. In the European school they’d give you a soundtrack and tell you to free-associate something of your own.

    Though I do not have much affinity with video design, being more of a drawing person like KDD, I appreciate the surreal beauty of certain images, especially the opening shots which remind me of Aleksandr Sokurov’s cinematography.

    But there are any number of things you can do with the existing footage, re-shuffle the editing order for example to allow for a new story (or meaning) to develop. To name just one opportunity, Dorothy trapped and unable to escape the Oz. He could have taken the idea of that light ”shining” in the Kubrickian sense further, maybe to show how the change in light also completely alters the meaning, or played more with metamorphosis using animation techniques, to develop it further into the realms of psychological nightmare. Mind you I’m not just talking about linear storytelling, but what you’d call a ”pictogram”. Those are lacking in the whole clip. And even on the level of just rhythmic-affective storytelling it begins very promisingly, with a menacing-erotic pull, only to dissolve into tepid meandering, like an unfinished thought. It was halfway to becoming a dark poem.


    Comment by parodycenter — 29 January 2009 @ 7:33 pm

  11. I think we’ll wait to hear from Josh about the assignment, his approach, and any responses he might have to critiques and suggestions offered here. Thanks.


    Comment by ktismatics — 29 January 2009 @ 7:54 pm

  12. I think, however, that if we don’t hear from Josh here, the discussion has triggered ideas for questions I’d like to pose him in our interview — assuming he’s still game, that is. I commend Josh for being a good sport and letting his work be viewed and reviewed in the uncontrolled environment of the blogs, as well as PC and KDD for expressing their divergent opinions on the film.


    Comment by ktismatics — 30 January 2009 @ 9:10 am

  13. Yes Clysmatics and I’m sorry if I was way too critical; the function of parody is to stir things up. In the liberal Western education kids get away with all kinds of laziness.

    KDD is much more of a Cancer, she reacts with her gut. And she also likes to serve as the Cultural Attache of the United States, which is not my ambition. I also have a strong analytical drive, probably coming from my Virgo-Ascendant. But we are not really divergent, I think.


    Comment by parodycenter — 30 January 2009 @ 12:38 pm

  14. I don’t know if you were way too critical or not. You’re an artist and a savvy film critic; you’re certainly entitled to your opinion and Josh is entitled to hear it. It’s actually related to some possible interview questions:
    – Does praise stimulate your artistry or make you complacent?
    – Does criticism bring you down or spur your desire to prove the critic wrong?

    Here are a few more questions that came to mind, based in part on your comments:
    – Why the Wizard of Oz?
    – Lynchian or other influences on your work?
    – What were the relative importance of demonstrating technical prowess vis-a-vis personal vision and expression?
    – Did you find the assignment inspiring or restrictive?
    – How do you feel about competitions? about winning? (Josh won best-in-class for this movie, as judged a panel of film professors).

    “In the liberal Western education kids get away with all kinds of laziness.”

    This came to mind too while thinking about your remarks. It might be more specifically American for teachers to avoid overly-negative criticism. Certainly our daughter experienced a much greater prevalence of “negative Nancys” when she attended French schools than here in the States. Your having been educated in Eastern Europe, I wonder if your teachers were even harder to please than the French. This difference I suspect has been around for some time: I remember Henry Miller writing in Tropic of Cancer or Sexus that Americans grow up thinking they can do anything, while only about 2% of the French feel that way about themselves.


    Comment by ktismatics — 30 January 2009 @ 1:04 pm

  15. I just came across a reference to the Wizard of Oz that might not be out of place here. It’s from near the end of Graham Harman’s Guerrilla Metaphysics, which I’m close to finishing, Here Harman, perhaps not coincidentally an American, is critiquing critique itself:

    Unfortunately, there are moments when it seems that the most treasured whipping boy of the critical intellectual is still the Wizard of Oz, the hypocritical zero who manipulates the world with illusions until his curtain is finally torn to shreds and his deceptions exposed. While such debunking may be necessary work at times, we should not forget that it is mainly the work of dogs (cynics, to say it in Greek). And instead of releasing seven hundred dogs from the city pound to tear away even more curtains and expose ever more frauds by the mighty, the work of the thinker should be to find the counter-wizard, or to pave the way for him oneself.


    Comment by ktismatics — 30 January 2009 @ 3:02 pm

  16. I wonder if your teachers were even harder to please than the French

    Definitely so, and I am thankful to those who were the worst – who made me recite Skinner’s rat experiments in the middle of the night. Only this kind of learning helps you to gain lasting knowledge, because you learn how to think in the process. The liberal teachers taught me exactly nothing. Of course, the strictness may not be based on negative authority, but on the professor’s own excellence and charisma, which helps you to take his demand seriously instead of as unjust punishment. I think the American problem is that you only get excellent education at the most expensive universities, but I don’t see that Holland with its education-for-all solved the problem, because here at the moment they’re producing total idiots.

    the work of the thinker should be to find the counter-wizard, or to pave the way for him oneself.

    How clever of dr. Harman to advertise his Copernican turn towards the Objects in this way!


    Comment by parodycenter — 30 January 2009 @ 3:38 pm

  17. I think if you pose the question Lynchian or other influences in your work this would sort of impute that he indeed was influenced by Lunch, so I guess better to ask him what his influences were.


    Comment by parodycenter — 30 January 2009 @ 4:02 pm

  18. and don’t forget to add ”if any” lest the American student be traumatized for life, thinking that he’s a total plagiarist of Wild At Heart.


    Comment by parodycenter — 30 January 2009 @ 4:06 pm

  19. I generally agree with Harman here, that engaging the world with a sort of naive enthusiasm opens the way toward discovery and creation. On the other hand, the (purportedly) naive enthusiasm of limitless debt financing and imperialist expansion represent the dark side of the American outlook. Criticism so often seems stultifying; one needs to regard the ability to self-critique as itself a tool of discovery and creation, to be wielded with skill and flourish like a surgeon uses a scalpel. Not easy to do.

    Why borrow when you can steal, said Picasso, or words to that effect. The Lynchian notes are discernible, and Lynch is perhaps the only widely viewed purveyor of such visual and sonic delights. However, this is a film school that prides itself on being experimental, so it might be informative to identify other sources, perhaps sources that Lynch himself borrows from. But the film already borrows its material entirely from the Wizard of Oz. This project is explicitly assembled from borrowed materials usuing borrowed techniques, so I doubt life trauma will result from this acknowledgment.


    Comment by ktismatics — 30 January 2009 @ 5:12 pm

  20. I remember in my freshman year of psychology there was a research conducted by Dr Predrag Ognjenovic, perception psychologist, about the relation of the subject to objects. He created several categories – ”object in itself”, ”object for me”, ” I and object” et cetera – which incrementally increased the autonomy of the subject vis-a-vis the object, e.g. in the category ”I for the object” the subject is obsessed with washing and grooming his car, and then down the next five categories, in the category ”object for me”, the car turns into his instrument / accessory or something like that. The general idea you’d get from the research is that living for the objects ”commodifies” you, you fuse with the object, you become ”objectified” etc. And so I don’t think I want to get object-oriented, especially not for Dr. Harman’s sake.


    Comment by parodycenter — 30 January 2009 @ 11:10 pm

  21. The Lynchian notes are discernible, and Lynch is perhaps the only widely viewed purveyor of such visual and sonic delights.

    Yes but in Lynch’s version of sampling something new is created from the very discrepancy/discord of his joined elements (I think Shaviro was in the right describing how the individual elements of his collages are silly in themselves, but together they create a spark)and this is what his plethora of imitators doesn’t seem to grasp. I am further intrigued that nobody mentions the strong religious elements of his works, which should be the subject of a separate debate with Erdman.


    Comment by parodycenter — 30 January 2009 @ 11:13 pm

  22. Like

    Comment by parody center — 31 January 2009 @ 11:24 am

  23. I admire the technical virtuosity, PC, but how have you made the subject YOUR OWN? No, never mind, don’t answer that one.


    Comment by ktismatics — 31 January 2009 @ 12:07 pm

  24. Congratulations to Josh. His “Once in a Lullaby” won Best Experimental Film and overall Best Film at the BFD Film Festival here in Boulder Sunday night. Over 100 University student films were submitted to the competition. In his brief and humble acceptance speech Josh thanked Pabst Blue Ribbon.

    The event truly was a BFD, complete with red carpet, paparazzi, show band, and song-and-dance numbers. The main event was the screening of the 3 top nominees in each of 6 categories: photo essay, animation, documentary, best bad movie, experimental, and narrative.


    Comment by john doyle — 28 April 2009 @ 8:55 am

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