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January 27, 2012

Derek Webb's Feedback Film: What Just Happened?

'Self-Sabotage,' a short film based on Webb's EP and the Lord's Prayer, is, um, unique


First things first: Derek Webb is one of my favorite artists, one of the most creative folks I know. I've long been a fan of his music, his honesty, his commitment to justice, and his willingness to challenge the rest of us in sometimes unexpected ways. He and I have had some good conversations over the years, and he always makes me think -- often about things I'd never considered before, or at least in ways I'd never done before.

When Derek released his Feedback album last spring -- an instrumental meditation on the Lord's Prayer -- I really liked it. Still do. It's terrific music, and while I can't cleanly "connect" every note to a corresponding phrase in the prayer, I was fine with that. It's good music to contemplate, as are Christ's words.

Webb wanted the work of art to extend beyond the music, so he first commissioned painter Scott Erickson for a series of paintings as a companion to the project. I've seen the art, and it's very good.

Then Webb wanted to extend the project to the medium of film, and worked with director Scott Brignac to come up with a "cycle of short films" called Self-Sabotage, described as "an exploration of the Lord's Prayer based on and inspired by Derek Webb's Feedback. It follows six characters in a narrative with no words, only the music to parallel the stories. Their lives, like moving icons, open windows into the great mystery of communion through self-dethroning sabotage."

OK, I mostly get that. But frankly, the film itself lost me. I enjoyed the images, and the way they're wedded to the soundtrack. I thought I picked up something about a Father's relentless love for his child, but I might've been wrong about that. I also thought a lot of it was about some nut-job stalking a young woman.

Apparently I'm not alone in my head-scratching. When the film premiered in Houston, Andrew Causey, who moderated a panel discussion afterward, said he had these questions: "Why was that girl dancing in the streets? Who was that guy in the woods? Did one guy just punch himself in the face? Does the girl jump? What does this have to do with the Lord’s Prayer? Did the running guy commit a crime? If so, what was it? Why does the creepy guy keep following the sad girl? Why doesn’t she spray him with mace?"

Causey was apparently more haunted by the film than I was, because he kept thinking about it, determined to find more meaning behind the abstraction. And, Lord bless him, he has come up with some pretty good insights and ideas here. Perhaps if I gave it repeated viewings, I would come up with some of the same observations -- or completely different ones.

I'm no literalist, and I generally don't mind abstractions and ambiguity in art. But Self-Sabotage, though interesting to look at, was just a bit too abstract for me. I just didn't get it.

Check it out below (and/or buy it here). What about you? Do you "get" it?

SELF-SABOTAGE from Scott Brignac on Vimeo.


I loved it. It did just what good art is supposed to do. Make us guess. Make us see things that might be there. Or might not. Make us question. Make us more sure about some things and less sure about others. It sounds like you might have had a similar reaction, but are uncomfortable with it, and thus uncomfortable with real art. As, sadly, are many of my christian brothers and sisters.

This is sad because of the gift of God we deprive ourselves of, and because it keeps us from supporting something in which we should be ahead of the world, not trailing.

BTW, the character you describe as a nut job is not. The young man and woman clearly have an exchange on the street that indicates a broken relationship in need of forgiveness. The ambiguity of the moments leading up to that make it all the more powerful when the realization hits.

In the future, I'm hopeful that CT can be more supportive of efforts like this, rather than nearly dismissing it because it's hard to get. The broad lack of support for true art in our American christian culture is deplorable and non-glorifying.

If Webb was just going for visually artistic ideas put in a video format, then he somewhat succeeded. It was visually interesting and I admired some of the creative compositions. I was also very bored and ended up skipping around just to see the different shots. If he was going for any semblance of an engaging and coherently made film, he failed miserably. Just because he is a successful artist in one regard doesn't give him talent in other areas. Just like Steven Spielberg can't paint a portrait or record an album, Webb has a lot to learn before making a film.