Jennifer Reeves
[Originally published in "The Best 50 Filmmakers Under 50," Cinema Scope, Issue 50, Spring 2012.]

Over the past 20 years, Jennifer Reeves has built a body of work encompassing ecstatic, short, abstract hand-painted films, a feature-length narrative study of psychological states, and several double projection "performance" films ideally meant to be accompanied by live music. During this time she has displayed an increasingly virtuosic command of the textural elements intrinsic to her beloved 16mm. From optical printing to direct-on-film techniques such as hand-painting, applying pharmaceuticals directly to the film stock, or re-photographing film strips that were literally sewn together, the "skins" of Reeves's films are the ostentatious, sensual, and captivating outward-facing carriers of the works' internal nervous systems.

If the texture of Reeves' films is the skin and the palpable content is the viscera and brains, then the inarticulable everything that connects them all together is the nervous system. This seems apt because Reeves' films are particularly potent in formally and thematically conveying varying states of anxiety and the effects of stress and the world upon the body and mind. This is the explicit charge of Chronic (1997) and The Time We Killed (2004). But even in the ebullient The Girl's Nervy (1995), which choreographs painted and pasted shapes to sanguine scores by Raymond Scott and Tommy Dorsey, the cracked paint and abstract forms recall neuron diagrams, and the emulsion of film itself seems to be responding to the impulses created by the music.

Following the inspiration that radical content deserves radical form that she learned from Peggy Ahwesh, Stan Brakhage, and Su Friedrich, Reeves' two most substantial works, The Time We Killed and When It Was Blue (2008) form a diptych documenting a consciousness—belonging both to Reeves and film itself—in its attempt to navigate the world. The Time We Killed is a high-contrast, black-and-white excavation of the interior state of a writer who has retreated to the safety of her apartment in the wake of 9/11. Another version of the American "blues," When It Was Blue is a double projection bursting with lush images of the natural world. Reeves wanted to capture these fragile states before they disappear, and to do so on the near-extinct format of 16mm. But Reeves' allegro sense of temp means this onslaught of imagery is impossible for a viewer to fully process—especially when each individual 1.33 projection contain superimpositions, so up to four layers of images appear simultaneously. In addition to revealing in beauty, Blue captures the feeling of disquietude experienced by a sensitive nervous system. But even when Reeves' states of anxiety are at their most oppressive, a sense of possibility and modest hope is conveyed through a belief in the healing, communicative, and therapeutic powers of art-making and viewing.

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 The Girl's Nervy   The Girl's Nervy (J Reeves, 1995)