Jeff Scher | Moving Pictures

Lost Thoughts

Victor Ullmann’s piano Sonata #7, Variations and Fugue on a Hebrew Folk Tune is the inspiration for this short film. It was written in 1944 while the composer was imprisoned in Terezin, a Nazi concentration camp on the Czech-German border where—incredibly—he was allowed to compose and perform along with a number of other Czech musicians. 

In four years close to 140,000 people passed through Terezin. At the time of it’s liberation, fewer than 17,000 survived—Victor Ullman was not among them. He was on one of the last transports to Auschwitz where he was sent to the gas chambers and murdered on October the 18th, 1944.

Lost Thoughts is about memory. There is a sense of distance from every image, watching but not entering. The piano, like the camera, is solo. Most of the motion in this film is provided by the wind, like a great invisible animator, it sets everything in motion. There is a poignance in its rhythms: wind blown branches resembling a rocking cradle and maternal comforting, but we are quite alone, like a restless spirit wandering through this reality. I wanted the film to feel like time out of time. It feels like a memory in a dream, like something written on the wind.

I shot Lost Thoughts with an older digital point and shoot camera converted to infra red, and with an assortment of filters. The effect is dramatic and otherworldly. It's beautiful, but also a little disorienting. I found the silvery look of the images reminiscent of old film stock. It helps give the film a sense of times past, while reminding you how frail our memories are.

Watch here.

Paul Orgel is the pianist, and the hauntingly beautiful full Sonata can be found on the Phoenix USA CD Music from the Holocaust. I’d also like to thank Jeffrey Kaufman for his kind permission for use of this recording.

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