Saturday, March 5, 2016
(December 1981, U.S.)
REDS is a film I never would have been interested in at the tender age of fourteen in a year that was dominated, for me, by films like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, SUPERMAN II, ARTHUR and constantly hearing the hit theme from CHARIOTS OF FIRE playing on my parent's stereo (I didn't actually see the film until it was on HBO two years later). The idea of even knowing what the Russian Revolution of 1917 was about and it's place in forming (what was then) modern Soviet Russia's state of communism under Lenin was beyond my very young comprehension. Hell, except for HEAVEN CAN WAIT three years prior, I was barely even aware of Warren Beatty's place in Hollywood as both actor and director. This epic drama of his tells the story of John Reed (played by Beatty), the journalist, writer, poet and political activist who sympathized with and chronicled the Russian Revolution in his book "Ten Days That Shook the World" (I haven't read it). While being a very strong political and historical drama, this is also a deeply-rooted love story between John and Louise Bryant (played by Diane Keaton). Upon meeting for the first time in 1915, Louise is intrigued with John's idealism and quickly comes to realize that writing has been her only escape from her frustrated high society existence. Louise joins John in Greenwich Village, New York City and becomes acquainted (and frustrated) with the local community of artists and activists, including famous playwright Eugene O'Neill (played by Jack Nicholson) and author and anarchist Emma Goldman (played by Maureen Stapleton). Later, they move to Provincetown, Massachusetts, to concentrate on their writing, the local theatre scene and their personal relationship, turbulent as it appears to be. Through her writing, Louise becomes a radical and feminist in her own right. As John becomes involved in labor strikes with the "Reds" of the Communist Labor Party of America, he also becomes obsessed with changing the world. Not long after finally marrying, the two of them manage to rekindle their passion as they're swept up in the heart of the fall of Russia's Czarist regime and the events of the 1917 Revolution. Continuing to be inspired by the idealism of the Revolution, John attempts to bring the spirit of this new Communism to the United States because he's become disillusioned with the policies imposed upon Communist Russia and the functions of the Bolsheviks. While attempting to escape from Europe and return to the United States, he's interrogated, imprisoned and eventually reunited with Louise in Moscow after she has spent her own time trying to illegally get into Russia to find her beloved John. Rest assured, though, this lovely feeling of love and heartfelt reunion doesn't last long. As with nearly all true stories of historical figures, the film ends in death...John Reed's. One of his many legacy's left behind to the world is that he's one of only two Americans to be buried at the (former) Soviet Kremlin Wall.
Before I continue, is it me, or does much of this entire story, both political and romantic, sound very much like a particular David Lean film known as DOCTOR ZHIVAGO?? Was Beatty greatly inspired by that film in making REDS, or is this all just a great big, historical coincidence?
While REDS is an intriguing, thought-provoking and entertaining epic film, it leaves me wondering just what feelings were supposed to take away in our perception of John Reed as a real-life historical figure. The film makes a strong point of painting Reed as a hero of the common worker and the Revolution. But given our knowledge of history and the place of Communism in both Soviet Russia and its influence on American culture and politics, just how far do we play the hero card on this one? It would be very easy to argue that John Reed was a traitor to American capitalism and freedom, which is what we spent too many decades defending, following the end of World War II (look up McCarthyism!). Perhaps it's truly effective that REDS incorporates authentic and poignant footage of interviews with real-life "witnesses" (including novelist Henry Miller) who set the film's scene and tone by describing how they not only knew John Reed and Louise Bryant, but can also attest to many of their beliefs and activities. These many points of views manage to separate the film from other so-called romantic adventures by giving it more historical clarity and insight. The viewer finds themselves watching the romantic adventure while taking part in serious documentary-style interviews, as well. In fact, if you were to go back and watch the science fiction film INTERSTELLAR (2014), you can easily see how director Christopher Nolan may have been greatly influenced by this style of filmmaking.
Warren Beatty's career has never been perfect, by my opinion. Having to watch DICK TRACY (1990) even once is enough to put you off a man's other works, perhaps unfairly, but hey...have you seen DICK TRACY?? And unfortunately, Beatty's swan song of TOWN & COUNTRY (2001) didn't exactly leave fans raving for more. Still, we can take solace in films like REDS and much of what he did prior in the 1970s and late '60s. And hey, I loved BUGSY (1991)!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Henry Miller (witness): "You know something, that I think, that there was just as much fucking going on then, as now. Only now, it has a more perverted quality to it. Now, there's no love whatever included."