Lily in the Grinder

a short film about existence (13min)
directed by Michael Morgenstern


Director's Statement

by Michael Morgenstern

Several years before I made Lily in the Grinder, I wrote a note to myself: "your next film will be about the flower in the machine." I had a vision of a flower, crushed up in the cold metal bowels of a machine. In our standard way of observation, it was irrevocably destroyed, but I was compelled by the idea that every moment of the flower's existence lay unchanged, and it was only our vantage point which imposed this idea of chronology.

Through such a perspective, a human life looks different. We are not what we become, or only what we have been - we are what we are in every moment. Rather than being new age claptrap, this perspective is well-supported in science, where Einstein's theory of Relativity requires a unification of space and time, and philosophy.

I wrote Lily in the Grinder several weeks after writing my last short film, Shabbat Dinner, and at the time never planned to make it. The process of shooting the film would be too ambitious to justify a short, as I knew that I'd want to make it both visually and sonically stunning. But a year after making my first short I'd already forgotten the pains of filmmaking and was ready to do it again. We covered 13 locations during a grueling 5-day shoot, where an incredible crew and cast executed nearly flawlessly. Shooting was followed by many months of editing, punctuated by test screenings by patient friends to help work out the kinks in the storytelling; in an unfinished cut, the difference between an intentional technique and raw edit was tough to discern. I performed minor reframes, tweaks, and special effects on almost half the shots, and color corrected the film.

After we reached soft picture lock, I made a "map of meaning" for the composer, detailing for every shot a) what the point of the shot was, b) what the visuals were doing, and c) what I wanted the music to accomplish. The score was written and we recorded it in a six-hour session at Let 'Em In Studios in Brooklyn. Hearing the film I had directed come back out in the form of a string quartet was the most blissful part of this entire experience.

The symbiosis between picture and music goes deep. Narratives evolve in a roughly linear fashion: traditionally, a thesis meets an antithesis, which becomes a synthesis. I wanted the film to evolve more like a piece of music, which introduces, builds, explores, and resolves various themes with less of a concept of narrative. We developed four themes, which Rafael wove into a string quartet in the style of Bela Bartok. Our in-person screenings always show the film twice: first the main film, then the Concert Edition, which has only the score. I actually prefer the Concert Edition (and audiences have told me that they do too, once they've watched the main version.) It is easier to turn off the part of the mind that wants to understand the film as a narrative.

Ultimately, I only wanted to explore death insofar as it relates to life, and our experience of living. In so many of our moments, we live in a tug-of-war between sex and death, though it can often be hard to see. The film is not perfect, it is the artful product of so many creative hands: watch it a few times and I guarantee, each time you'll see something new.

I feel grateful to my wonderful friends and collaborators, and proud to share our work. Please pass it along - it's the only way indie film ever finds an audience!