Reds (1981) - 25th Anniversary Edition
Ten Days that Shook the
World,' with the greatest
interest and close attention. I recommend it to the workers of
the world without reservation."
"I read John Reed’s book, '
– V.I. Lenin, 1919 -
Reds is proof that if a big name
director uses big name stars to make a long film about a serious
topic, many people will acclaim its genius, no matter its actual merits.
Warren Beatty made this one three and a quarter hours long (plus
intermission), chose the Russian Revolution as his subject, and filled
it with superstars like Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, and Gene Hackman.
Predictably, it received a bushel of Oscar nominations, and even
managed to win Beatty the Best Director award over some strong
competition. Hugh Hudson was nominated that year, but would lose the
Best Director race even though his Chariots of Fire would
be the Best Picture winner. Steven Spielberg was also in the
running with his best entertainment picture, Raiders of the Lost Ark,
which is currently rated #16 on the IMDb all-time list. But Beatty
Reds is fundamentally
a biography of John Reed, who is best known as the author of Ten Days
that Shook the World, a first-hand account of the October Revolution
in Russia. Reed was an American who was physically present in St. Petersburg to report all
the small details of those critical days, and he talked personally to
Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev and others. His was, and probably still
remains, the most reliable journalistic account of the initial
establishment of Bolshevism in Russia.
Here is the summary by act:
Act 1: Reed and Louise Bryant
meet and court in Portland, where they both lived.
Act 2: Intellectual life in Greenwich Village
and Provincetown in the 1910's. Reed and Bryant interact with other
free thinkers like the famous playwright Eugene O'Neill (Jack
Nicholson) and the anarchist/intellectual/feminist Emma Goldman
(Maureen Stapleton, who won an Oscar for this role). The
relationship of Reed and Bryant goes through some very rocky
patches. Louise has a famous affair with Eugene O'Neill.
Act 3: Bryant and Reed are present for The
Act 4: Reed
attempts to establish a viable Communist Party inside the United
Act 5: Reed
returns to Russia and is enlisted (involuntarily!) by the Bolsheviks
to assist in spreading socialist propaganda through the far reaches
of their vast empire. Louise tries to meet up with him, and manages
to reach him only a week before he takes to bed, deathly ill of
typhus, He passes away in 1920, only three years after the
revolution, at the age of 33.
A good deal
of this doesn't work at all. Act 2, for example, is just bickering and
shouting between Reed and Bryant about the shape their relationship
will take. Act 5 is just bickering and shouting between Reed and
Zinoviev about how the Revolution is being destroyed by bureaucracy.
Act 4 is also bickering and shouting, this time between Reed and the
other people who are trying to establish a socialist political party
in America. This act is particularly mundane. In fact, it reminded me
very much of the scene in The Life of Brian in which the intellectuals
discuss whether the revolutionary interests of the Jewish people
should be represented by the People's Front of Judea or the Judean
People's Front, or other similarly named groups. If you substitute
Socialist Party of America and American Socialist Party into the Monty
Python dialogue and place it side-by-side with the Reds script, it
would be very difficult to tell the difference. (Reds was made only
two years after The Life of Brian, and I'm wondering if the parallel
words, almost everything after the intermission consists of boring
bickering about petty matters like credentials and improper
translations, all of which are of no interest to you unless you happen
to have a scholarly curiosity about such forgotten matters in times
long past. The failure of the film in its second half parallels two
developments from life. (1) The Russian Revolution began in the
wellspring of optimism and hope for a better life for the common man.
It almost immediately turned into a regime no less incompetent and
repressive than the Czar's. (2) John Reed's life though the Russian
Revolution was a glorious success. His accounts of Villa's exploits in
Mexico and Lenin's in Russia made him possibly the most famous
journalist of his time, maybe of any time. After that, he made a
transition from artist to ideologue and found his new role less
suitable, although he never lost his enthusiasm for the noble cause.
With the film's two subjects having gone sour after the October
Revolution, the film was doomed to the same course.
Frankly, the first part of the film is not that
much better. It might have spent its time more wisely by showing some
of the conditions which led American workers and intellectuals to
their long-time flirtation with Communism. That would have created
much more empathy for the main characters who devoted their lives to
the socialist cause. Instead, Beatty decided on a steady procession of
historical cameos that should have required a scorecard. I'm still not
sure precisely who Edward Herrmann and Gene Hackman were supposed to
be. In the middle of a bunch of chatty parlor socialism is a strange
love story between Bryant and Reed that seems to flourish only during
the ten days that shook the world, during which the lovers look deep
into one another's eyes during Lenin speeches and hold hands
romantically as the people around them ransack the Czar's palaces.
It's as if the climax of the revolution was their climax as well. The
only thing missing is Bryant having a loud climax while Lenin arrives
at the Finland Station. This section concludes with a romantic musical
montage, filled with images of them romping through the forest with
their doggie and making love under heavy blankets and laughing off
each other's fumbles in the kitchen. It's the same musical montage
that we see in every 80s film, except that in this case the usual
soft-rock classic has been replaced by the Internationale, the famous
rallying ballad for the global socialist movement. In the last
analysis, the first half of Reds is just another conventional
Hollywood romance which uses important historical events as a
backdrop. It is arguably no better than, for example, Cold Mountain,
and in fact scores lower than that Civil War epic at IMDb (7.1 vs.
The second half, in my opinion,
isn't even worth watching! In fact, I think the film would be better
if it ended at intermission, and would have been far better with an
expansion of the pre-intermission section. The conditions that brought
about the international worker's revolt were enough material for one
film. By trying to dissect the destruction of that dream as well,
Beatty just assayed too much for one film to handle. Beatty could have
spent his time far more wisely by showing why socialism seemed like
such a good idea to begin with rather than by dissecting such boring
trivia as the socialist movement's internal power struggles, which
seemed to fill the entire post-intermission portion of this film with
various characters shouting at one another about penny-ante matters
like credentials and mistranslations.
The film does use one interesting and involving
device - a sort of Greek chorus called The Witnesses. Beatty went out
and filmed interviews with elderly people who actually knew Jack Reed,
Louise Bryant and Emma Goldman, and/or people who remembered the
idealism of the American socialist movement. The diverse group
included entertainer Georgie Jessel, historian Will Durant, author
Henry Miller, and many more (none identified as they spoke).
Looking back on this film after a quarter of a
century, it is difficult to understand how it could have been
nominated for so many Academy Awards, or even how it could still have
93% positive reviews at IMDb. It's a long, unfocused movie. Much of it
is tedious, and the rest of it is often corny. The critical role of
Louise Bryant is fatally underwritten, and what little we know of her
is enough to make us wonder why Reed loved her in the first place. Of
course, the film is not without some appeal, and it has its moments.
Some of the scenes in Russia are especially spectacular, and the
re-creations of the look and atmosphere of the turn of the century are
quite impressive, but the script seems to consist mainly of bickering,
and the whole second half never really seems to be going anywhere.
Diane Keaton .
Is this really her bum? I doubt it - but for the
record, here it is.
THIRD PARTY VIDEOS:
The bum of Misty Traya
on Nip/Tuck. Various still
Tara Reid Admits to Botched
Announcement of Glorious
Nuclear Achievement to Gangster Stooges of
False Child Support Case
Exposes System's Failures.
How coudl a man pay five years worth of child
support for a non-existent child? Read on.
"Scarlett Johansson is
Sexier in Allure"
Despite the two humorous
"New York Yankees manager
Joe Torre announced at a Tuesday press
conference that he will return to the bench for
the 2007 season."
Joe Torre Fired for Surfing
Porn Sites at Work
Joe Torre Fired Because
Johnny Damon Throws Like A Girl
'Two-A-Days' finale will be
broadcast on the internet before TV
The complete pilot from 20
Good Years (New TV Show)
- John Mason and
Jeffrey Pyne are best friends but polar
opposites. John (John Lithgow) is a brash,
thrice-divorced surgeon, while Jeffrey
(Jeffrey Tambor) is a cautious judge who's
still hung up on his late wife. But they do
agree they have about 20 good years left and
resolve to live each day as if it were their
The trailer for Tony
Scott's Deja Vu
- "It is deja vu that
unexpectedly guides ATF agent Doug Carlin
through an investigation into a shattering
crime. Called in to recover evidence after a
bomb sets off a cataclysmic explosion on a New
Orleans Ferry, Carlin is about to discover
that what most people believe is only in their
heads is actually something far more
powerful.It is deja vu that unexpectedly
guides ATF agent Doug Carlin through an
investigation into a shattering crime. Called
in to recover evidence after a bomb sets off a
cataclysmic explosion on a New Orleans Ferry,
Carlin is about to discover that what most
people believe is only in their heads is
actually something far more powerful."
Kate Winslet Decided She
Wanted To Become An Actress While On The Toilet
... which probably explains her peeing on camera
in Holy Smoke.
What's the origin of "the
opera ain't over till the fat lady sings?"
The comic-con preview for
the Rodriguez half of Grindhouse,
which looks like some seriously silly shit.
(Check out the new, skinny Rose McGowan!)
Gibson says he's been sober
for 65 days, and
now thinks that Jews are all great guys and
gals, and not responsible for any wars at all.
No, really. He can see everything clearly now.
"Top Ten Signs Your Lettuce
- You had to sign a
waiver before a trip to the Olive Garden salad
- It comes with
- You feel weak and
listless and your name's not 'A-Rod'
Randy Newman sings
Political Science on The Colbert Report
Colbert reasons with Kim
Jong Il, Part 1
Stephen Colbert's Sports
Update covers all teams with mascots named after
Colbert discusses arming
The Daily Show discusses
the North Korean nuclear blast.
Jon Stewart interviews
James Baker, Part 1
The Daily Show's Asian
expert, Assif Mandvi, reports from North Korea
Jon Stewart on Dennis
Hastert's "cemetery speech."
The Daily Show continues to
prove that the Republican scandal is all the
"A Bulgarian woman who
killed her son was released from prison because
of terminal cancer. She then went home and
killed her husband"
Ed Benedict, animator who
drew 'The Flintstones' dead at 94.
The march of his pallbearers will be accompanied
by "tinkly feet" music.
More truth from Pravda:
Obscure California law says
workers are owed cash bonus if they give up
The good news? William Hung
is still alive and singing.
The bad news? Similar.
The Boobs Is Right
... A 'Price is Right' montage of the best
bouncing boobie footage.
Democrats Surge One Month
Before Midterm Elections
Yellow asterisk: funny (maybe). White asterisk: expanded format.
Blue asterisk: not mine. No asterisk: it probably sucks.