Thursday, 26 June 2008

Reds (1981)

Or, as Paul Morrissey so memorably labelled it, "Commie Dearest". An impressive, rigorous, and intelligent film, one that Warren Beatty clearly worked his guts out to bring to the screen, Reds is still not half as great as it wants to be. Compare it to, say, the pulsing, indelible vision of recent American history in Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In America, or the anarchic joy of Ken Russell's bohemian fantasy Savage Messiah, or Boxcar Bertha's portrayals grass roots activism, and you may begin to understand what I found lacking from Reds; it's a ctually a rather staid, fussy film in terms of style and structure. We only gain glimpses of the radical world, and the real world beyond it: it is chiefly about good-looking, self-appointed saviors getting it on. So we are treated to scene after scene of John Reed and Louise Bryant, as feuding fiery lovers, arguing in rooms, fucking in rooms, occasionally going up to sit in Provincetown rooms, then going to Russia and arguing with Soviets in rooms.

Beatty's concept for Reed alarmingly renders him a self-involved know-it-all who fights for ideals ungrounded in reality, and Beatty identifies himself as a self-involved know-it-all fighting to make a movie about him. The style of the romantic scenes was properly condemned as seeming to be based more in Hollywoodese - Beatty seems to be doing a Cary Grant klutz impression in some lightly screwball scenes - than in historical radical-bohemia, complete with wise-ass cracks provided Elaine May. For a bit of Lean sweep, Beatty makes up a sequence where Bryant trudges across the Finnish snow. Vittorio Storaro's photography is remarkable - he crisply encapsulates every shot, and Beatty's firm touch with construction makes it flow easily. It's tremendously watchable, especially in one great montage set to the Internationale. If Beatty is never anything but Beatty, and Diane Keaton is never anything but Keaton, they still take over their roles completely. Jack Nicholson walks off with the film in his sublime interpretation of misanthropic, subtly tortured Eugene O'Neill, and Maureen Stapelton gives us the earth mother Emma Goldman we got in the novel of Ragtime and should have gotten in Forman's film of it. Over and above all of that, the "Witness" interviews are brilliant and fascinating - old warhorse Henry Miller particularly joyous in his easy humanism and social cynicism.

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