When Annette Bening was up for best actress for American Beauty,
Warren Beatty received the Irving G. Thalberg Award for a body of work that includes heavy hitting political themes at the Academy Awards in 2000. One of Beatty's best achievements for which he won the Oscar for Best Director in 1982 is Reds
. This 200-minute film is the story of John Reed, an American journalist and radical who lived during a period of global upheaval, and who rote a stunning book on the Russian revolution Ten Days that Shook the World
. A poet and chronicler of strikes, war and revolution, Reed traveled to peasant uprisings lead by Pancho Villa in Mexico, strikes by silkworkers clubbed by the police in New Jersey and coal miners in gunned down by the National Guard in Colorado, and eventually traveled to Petrograd to witness firsthand the Bolshevik revolution in 191.
Reds deals with the period of Reed's life when he wrote for The Masses
, a socialist magazine edited by Max Eastman. Reed was in good company with other contributors such as William Carlos Williams, Upton Sinclair, Maxim Gorki Bertrand Russell, and Picasso.
Beatty plays John Reed and Diane Keaton, his wife Louise Bryant in this 1981 production. Their remarkable friends are contemporaries like Eugene O'Neill (Jack Nicholson) editor Max Eastman, (Richard Herrmann) and feminist and anarchist Emma Goldman, (the fabulous Maureen Stapleton).
Reed's world was one that advocated not only sexual freedom in a time of Christian self-righteousness but anti militarism at a time of bigotry. When Woodrow Wilson wanted to declare war on Germany in 1917, Reed fought back and wrote that it was 'mob madness', that it would 'choke artists'. 'This is not our war', he argued.
Reds centers on the relationship between Bryant and Reed, an enduring friendship that began in 1915 and lasted until Reed's death in Russia in 1919. Both Beatty and Keaton who were dating at the time are convincing and the story of their relationship compels with believable dialogue and passion.
Probably more than anything Beatty succeeds in showing how Reed became involved in the formation of the American Communist Workers Party at the expense of his relationship and love for his country. The film shows that despite Bryant and other friends' wishes, Reed went to Russia as a delegate of the Communist International. This is where his life steers out of control and Beatty captures it well as both filmmaker and actor. Falling ill to typhus, Reed becomes disillusioned with Russia and the revolution (as does Emma Goldman) and he longs for home. As Louise Bryant arrives to take him back, he dies and is later buried near the Kremlin.
Reported to have asked for as many as 70 takes for a single "Reds" sequence, Warren Beatty has made both an outstanding period piece and a political critique. In 1998, Beatty would rigorously tackle and critique American politics with Bulworth
, a resounding artistic and commercial success.
© 2003 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 9/03
USA - 1981