So Peter, what did you watch when you had your first night at home alone for months? Well mystery person, I ordered a buttload of Chinese food and watched one of the longest films left on the 1001 list.
Reds is one of those films that feels like it hasn’t quite stayed in the public consciousness. It’s not like it’s completely faded from history, but I don’t know anyone who has actually sat through is all.
Although I am still unsure how this film could even have been made if not for the driving force of Warren Beatty’s celebrity, I am awful glad it exists. By telling the story of social activist, writer and communist supporter John Reed and fellow radical and lover Louise Bryant.
Keep in mind this film was made after the end of the détente era of the Cold War. It took stones to make something like Reds which depicted anti-capitalism and pro-communism in a moderate-to-positive light. As writer and director Beatty manages to show both sides of the movements that came out of the Bolshevik Revolution.
For me a large part of the film’s politics is epitomised by a conversation between John Reed and Emma Goldman (Maureen Stapleton in an Oscar winning turn) in the final act of the film. Goldman, who has long been a supporter of the Bolshevik politics, has become disillusioned and disgusted by the turnout of the revolution. Millions starved to death. Firing squads executing people at the slightest sign of dissent. This was not the revolution she wanted.
Reed, however, is in so deep that he hasn’t realised that he has become part of a machine that he sought to destroy all those years ago. Where he once marched against deaths in war, he is now not able to condemn the deaths in the name of communism. He actively defends some of these and chastises Goldman for her naivety. It’s a powerful scene, and it’s one of those that still feels important considering the recent rise of populism. No major ideological revolution can occur without blood (be it real or metaphorical) being spilt.
Whilst I have yet to see On Golden Pond (and I have no real desire to) I have to question what level of performance was required that year to beat Warren Beatty to the Best Actor Oscar. I mean, these were some powerhouse performances from him and Dianne Keaton (although I would never begrudge Katherine Hepburn a win) to go unrewarded.
So yes, at over 3 hours long it is a lengthy film. However, thanks to the interesting choice of interweaving the story with real-life accounts from talking heads it plays more like a docudrama than a epic film. For me, that was a good thing and allowed me to stay invested through the entire film. There was also the undeniable chemistry between Beatty and Keaton which drives the entire film.