Geoff Andrew, film critic and Head of Film Programme, BFI Southbank:
Call them films, flicks, movies or cinema; see them as product, business, entertainment, socio-historical documents or art; whatever your perspective, what defines this particular medium, and did so from the beginning, when the Lumière brothers first publicly screened their brief shots of workers leaving a factory and a train entering a station, is a seemingly magical mixture of image and movement. Very often, it's motion - be it a spectacular rush to the rescue or something as comparatively small as a shy smile or glance - that conveys emotion in a film; equally often, it's motion that arouses emotion in the viewer.
All of which is a preamble to why I find Alex Reuben's films so satisfying. He first came to my attention some years back with some shorts he'd made which were, in their different ways, about motion: hands shaping clay on a potter’s wheel in Colin’s Wings, and dance-like animation set to music in Que Pasa and Line Dance. Even then, in the last two films, what I found pleasing was the imaginative visual response to the rhythmic and tonal textures of the music selected for the soundtracks. But it was only some years later, when I first saw Routes, that I really came to suspect that Reuben had a special talent. I enjoyed the film so much that I indulged myself with several repeat viewings in unusually quick succession.
Again, it wasn't just - or even primarily - the content of Routes that won me over. However fine the music and dance recorded by Reuben as he drove down from New England to New Orleans equipped with little but a digital camera, what impressed me, as before, was his response to the sights and sounds he discovered. Watch the film and you'll see how his compositions, camera movements and cutting methods differ according to the dance, music, milieu and people in any given sequence; he understands (thanks, I assume, to a mixture of intuition and reflection) whatever film syntax is required to best convey the mood, meaning and essence of what he's capturing on film. In short, as with all good filmmakers, form and content virtually become one, such is the fertility of their symbiotic relationship in his work.
I was pleased to find, when I later saw Newsreel One, that my suspicions about Reuben’s talents were confirmed. It's in many ways a more ambitious work in that its subject is a little more diffuse, harder to categorise. In addition to music and dance, Reuben shows us people - as individuals and in groups - and objects (trees, especially, spring to mind) in everyday, non-musical motion. Yet that sense of rhythm never deserts him; again the editing and camera placement and movements are both eloquent and evocative. It's as if, for Reuben, film IS dance and music.
Of course, many of our finest filmmakers create works that feel almost musical in their rhythms, harmonies and resonance; it's one of the skills that makes them great. And while I'm not arguing that Reuben should be elevated into a special pantheon specifically reserved for film directors with expertise in choreographic motion or some such, I do feel he has a cinematic gift that is far from ubiquitous. Moreover, in their own modest way, his films remain true to the spirit of the Lumière brothers. Give Reuben a camera, and he may give us magic.