Daniel Reeves, a critical essay


Daniel Reeves made many influential films. They were for the most part poetic and were antiwar. Out of the six films I viewed and will be discussing, four have to deal with war, and violence. All six of them did have a poetic theme to them. Watching his films really made me think about life, war and death. The films I will be discussing are Sabda, Sombra a Sombra, Smothering Dreams, Ganapati/A Spirit in the Bush, Body Count, and Amida.

The first film I will be discussing is Sabda. "Sabda" refers to the "word", the original sound of life. The scenery he shot for this film in the beginning was very beautiful. I especially liked the shot of the moon between the two trees. But then it showed the poorness of the land. "He uses digital-imaging techniques to produce ghostlike, transient figures passing through landscapes." (Marita Sturken, After Image). I liked how he showed the very skinny and not well groomed men and woman hard at work and the sickly looking woman begging for change. This really showed what it was like there and what the conditions were like, living there. This film had a very poetic theme to it about life and death. He worked scenes in very well with his poem. For instance in one scene he said: "All things Dying", and then he cut to a bunch of crows around a vacant area. Crows usually represent death. At the end of the film he starts where he begins but this time the camera is in focus and the poem on the screen says "You end where you begin", I thought that was very symbolic and a great ending to a great film.

The second film I will discuss is Sombra a Sombra which means shadow to shadow. In this film the narrator talks about death, loneliness and what happens to us when we leave. He shows the old land and then the new land that is built. This is another film that has a very poetic theme to it. It is a kind of morbid film about death, but it is very good in the meaning it has for it. One thing that is said by the narrator is: "When they leave they don't really leave because the subject of what they did remains".

The third film I will discuss is Smothering Dreams. This to me was the most interesting and most enjoyable film that I had seen from his work. This film is based on Daniel Reeves' own experiences. It is an antiwar film about the Vietnam War. This film shows graphic images of men injured in battle which are great images because it really shows how intense and horrific the war really was. He shows boys playing war on the dirt and killing each other. This to me shows great symbolism and meaning in that kids do not understand the war and violence and they will imitate it and will ultimately repeat it. I think what he is trying to say there is that violence leads to more violence. And I thought it was great how he tied it all together. But I have to say, the film didn't really hit home so to speak until Reeves shows the dead boys lying on top of one another. It was really a scary image that makes you stop and think. I felt that that scene was the best way of getting his antiwar message across.

The fourth film I will discuss in this essay is Ganapati/A Spirit in the Bush. This film does a great job in showing the relationship between man and animal: how it is and how it should be. I have to admit I never really thought much about elephants but after watching this film I have a new found respect for them as well as sorrow. Reeves first shows the elephant chained and then he shows the scenery of beautiful land. It was a good way of showing where the elephant should be. Reeves really shows how strong and how amazing these animals really are. He shows the elephants comically interacting with humans and how smart they are with doing tricks. They're the only wild animal that can be taught tricks. Some scenes I really felt bad for the elephants, like when the hunter shot the two elephants down right in front of the baby elephant. It was cruel. This movie definitely gets his point across about how we should preserve these creatures of nature and how we should cherish them not murder them.

The fifth film I watched and will be discussing is Body Count. This film was similar to Smothering Dreams and even uses some of the same scenes. It seems that Reeves is more concerned with the deaths in this one than the war itself. Seeing all of those men and children dead really makes you take a step back. It hits you hard when you see it. And again it did a very good job of getting his antiwar message across.

The sixth and final movie I will be discussing in this essay is Amida. This film is not for the weak stomach. This film was very in your face. It kind of hit you in the sense that you would be watching it and the shot would cut to something like a dead cat and it made you like jump back a little. It shows images of dead cats, a rat getting run over and a skull in the water. However, as morbid as some of the scenes were, he did do a good job of showing the relationship between life and death and how precious life really is. For instance, in one scene he shows a happy dog running but then it would cut to a painted skull in the water. Reeves also showed how precious life is in one scene that really touched me. In this shot the dog knocked over a statue with flowers in it. The flower floated by the dog to where he could reach it, the dog reached out and grabbed it in his mouth. In this scene it was as if he was saying even an animal as simple minded as a dog can appreciate life even in something as little as a single flower. I really liked it and thought he did it very well.

Daniel Reeves' films all pretty much have the same theme to them. They have poetry, death, and the appreciation of life. You can tell by these films that Reeves really appreciates life. From people, to elephants, and to even a single rose floating in the water, he takes nothing for granted. I have to say I didn't know what to expect before watching these but I'm glad I got the chance to. They really touched me and I thought they were all great. The one that reached out most to me though was Smothering Dreams. It really had me thinking about it even after the film was over. I think partly because it was based on his life experience and partly because seeing those people dead and the children laying on the floor in a pile really opened my eyes.

--Anthony Susi, 2006

Daniel Reeves