Disenchanted with the usual biographical summary, but allowing that your kind attention must not be treated inhospitably in the face of its fair and natural curiosity, we offer you not a resume measured out against the conventional benchmarks of schools and jobs, but a Fibonacci sequence of anecdotes spiraling geometrically through the years of a life, in the hope that this may better answer the question: Who is this?
At 0 Reeve was born in New Jersey, U.S.A., 13 miles from New York City.
At 1 tthe longest solar eclipse of the twentieth century passed through the area exactly on the opposite side of the earth from him. He had no idea.
At 1 he escaped from the playpen his mother had placed in the garden. He crawled up the steps and into the road. He nearly became a speed bump, but an alert motorist stopped in time.
At 2 he discovered his shadow. He could not out-smart it.
At 3 he and a friend decided to go New York. They estimated which way to go and started walking. They agreed that they would know they had arrived when they saw the tall buildings. They walked a while, met some new kids, made friends and joined a game of hide-and-seek until the sun went down. At dusk the other kids were called in for supper and the game ended. They realized that they were lost, but at that moment a friend of his family pulled up in a car and found them. The Police in three towns had been searching for the unfortunate missing children. The children didn't understand the fuss. They were fine, they had a great game of hide-and-seek, and they got a ride home.
At 5 he had on his windowsill a glass bulb containing a solar pinwheel of black and white squares. It was pushed by light. It spun furiously in the midday sun, but only gently at the end of the day.
At 8 he was given a telescope. He looked at the moon and studied other distant things. Before too long he had dismantled it and was surprised to see that there wasn't much of anything inside. He played with the lenses, burning holes in paper and focusing images on the wall of his room. He felt the power of a Greek god when he focused the light ray on a bug. But then he felt remorse, and did not become a serial killer.
At 13 a friend's father lent him a twin-lens reflex camera. It was not an expensive model, but compared to the Kodak Instamatic with which he was familiar it was a sophisticated machine indeed. Popping up the shade hood and peering into the frosted glass he could dial balls of luminous fuzz into revelations of solid fact. It had gears that synchronized the two lenses to turn together. Cool.
He hiked into the woods early one morning, and while photographing the rocks and rills of a hillside brook he fumbled and dropped the camera into the water. He plucked it out and ran home to dry it out immediately.
He dismantled the camera with the meticulous caution of a bomb disposal engineer. He dried all the parts with Q-tips, and successfully reassembled it; almost. The problem was that at the end he couldn't re-synchronize the lenses. He now realized that as he screwed in the long fine threading of the lens barrel he needed to know how to co-ordinate the lenses. You didn't just screw it on, you needed to know where to stop in the middle and lock it with the setscrew. The top lens could be seen to focus on the ground glass, but the correct position of the bottom lens could not be similarly observed. Maybe if he had counted and remembered the rotations through the threads as he had removed it, maybe if he had made a tiny scratch to mark the alignment, but even if he had understood these things, it was now too late. Ka-Boom!
It was still early on a Saturday and he knew there were real camera shops in New York City, so he found a name in the yellow pages and took the next train. At a little repair place on an upper floor the guy with the loupe was sympathetic. He explained a bit about optical benches and calibrating lenses, and offered to tune up the camera for what was a really kid friendly fee. When it was done it had been oiled and cleaned and looked better maybe then before.
So he wondered: did he have to tell his friend's father what had happened? You could say, after first screwing up, he had taken good care of the camera, in the end. He didn't want to look bad in the eyes of this avuncular adult, but it clearly felt dishonest do say nothing. The word "obfuscation" was not yet in his vocabulary.
As it happened he was saved from the ethical abyss by one look at the camera case. It had been set aside early on the morning of the crisis and now it's leather looked like old gloves dried on the radiator.
At 21 he was at film school in New York scraping by with a job as a teaching assistant in the darkrooms. He lived in Greenwich Village snapping pictures with a beat-up Nikon and scribbling madly in a journal stained with coffee and beer. The actual original Mamoun's falafels on MacDougal Street kept him alive for 75 cents a meal. One night, in the West 4th St. subway station, a pack of tough teenagers who were nonchalantly ambling along the platform suddenly formed a ring around him like a Kung Fu movie, but he was no Bruce Lee.
The leader demanded, "Whatdaya got, man?
"Man, I got nothing... I got a cigarette." and he offered one to the alpha male, who took it, and lit it. He took one himself and offered them around, but the others just stared back. The leader weighed his fate for a moment but decided that this tribute was sufficient to avert the beating his guys were poised to provide. The leader raised his hand and made a gang gesture that apparently meant "peace" in some provisional sense, and so the others broke off the formation and drifted off down the platform sniffing the air as they went. The Nikon camera had remained concealed beneath his coat.
At 34 he was in the film business, in the union, and working on the crew for commercials and movies as a prop guy. He helped decorate the set, made rain, smoke and snow and carried furniture around. The work was interesting, challenging, and physically exhausting with long hours and a hectic pace.
One night while in Philadelphia working on a movie, he was sleeping in his hotel room when he had a vivid work dream. Common among film crews, these dreams feature a surreal movie set for which you are required to execute insane tasks like carpeting the beach or nailing Jell-O to the ceiling. Nearly overwhelmed by the impossible time pressure and the bizarre requirements, the protagonist non-the-less slogs through the deepening chaos never questioning the sense of it. What is perhaps the really surprising thing is that these dreams are quite similar to an actual workday.
This was his first night in a strange hotel, and this particular dream cast him as a man in a hotel who was running late for work. Though still sound asleep, he jumped out of bed and rushed out the door to try to catch the last van from the hotel to the set. He awoke in the hall, just as the door latched behind him. He wasn't late. He was 3 hours early. It was the middle of the night and he was stark naked and locked out of the room. He ran up and down the hall, but he couldn't find a linen closet or housekeeping station where he might find a towel, or a sheet to fashion an ad hoc toga. He didn't know the room number of anyone else on the crew since he had just arrived that day. There was no house phone in the hall, or hiding place. There were no newspapers or floor mats, no room service trays, or shoes left for the valet, and even the vase on the console table by the elevators was glued down. There wasn't even a "Do not disturb" sign, though wearing one of those would not have helped the situation much, especially if the 'make me up now" side was showing.
He returned to the door, studied the latch mechanism, and realized that there was nothing he could do without a credit card or some sort of tool. Superior human intellect not withstanding, he was just a trapped monkey. A naked, freaked-out, trapped monkey.
Then he heard the muffled sound of television coming through a nearby door. He knocked softly. He knocked harder and called through the door and was answered finally by the cautious voice of a man who must have dozed off with the television on. He wouldn't open the door and throw out a towel, but he consented to calling the front desk, which he undoubtedly would have done anyway, since when there is a naked monkey in the hall someone should be called.
Reeve tried to act calm, matter-of-fact, and without guile as he waited for the next elevator door to open. Would it be a bellhop with a key, or a phalanx of nuns with pepper spray?
It was the guy with the key and he just chuckled softly to himself as he strolled out of the elevator and directly to the right room without prompting. He unlocked it.
"Thank you", said the humble monkey. "I'd give you a tip, but I don't have a thing on me."
At 6AM, when the real van was leaving, the same guy was still at the desk. Reeve reiterated his thanks and discreetly gave him a twenty. He climbed into the van and went to the set being prepared for next week. There he climbed into a condor lift and spent the day attaching thousands of sprigs of plastic leaves to all the branches of a 60 ft tree. It was winter.
This will be followed by 55, 89, 144, 233, and etc, as needed.
Photos by Thomas Hudson Reeve
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