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Classic Experimental Short Film: Lullaby

Video memories and nostalgia blur together in Jennifer Reeder‘s classic installation piece, Lullaby, in which personal footage of ’80s cheerleading tryouts and ballet classes is set to a heavily slowed down and distorted version of Madonna’s early hit, Lucky Star.

Media appropriation in underground film has existed since the 1960s, but in 1999 — when Reeder produced Lullaby — combining personal and popular video sources was not a particularly common practice, especially given the cruddy quality of the analog equipment of the time.

Woman wearing a white wig and black lipstick

However, Reeder brilliantly exploits that cruddiness by not hiding it and even calling attention to it through several methods, such as slowing down the footage intensely; keeping the bad tracking distortions of the VHS tape; and especially by heavily distorting the Lucky Star soundtrack. This manipulation works to let the audience know that we are looking at an artifact of a bygone era and acts as a commentary on the fractured nature of memory, even when that memory has been captured on a recordable medium.

(And a special note about that slowed down Madonna soundtrack: It works at first as a cool effect, becomes horrifyingly grating a few minutes in, but then switches back to being cool.)

Reeder proudly describes her films as Feminist and, within that domain, her work frequently falls into what could be more specifically described as “teenage girl empowerment.” There seems to be a direct connection between Reeder’s experimental work such as Lullaby and her more recent narrative films about the relationships between teenage girls, such as A Million Miles Away and Blood Below the Skin.

That’s what is most empowering about Reeder’s films. Although many of her films are teen-centric, she does not condescend to the base elements that most teen oriented films feel they need to pander to. Reeder treats her younger subjects as equals, elevating their emotional dreams and desires into universal concerns that can be appreciated and related to by both adolescent and adult audiences, male and female.


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