Sunday, September 20, 2015
Reds (1981 film)
Based on the novel Ten Days That Shook the World by John Reed, Reds is the story of John Reed’s account of the Russian Revolution as he begins an affair with socialite Louise Bryant who joins him in taking part of the revolution. Directed by Warren Beatty and screenplay by Beatty and Trevor Griffiths, the film is an exploration into the world of the Russian Revolution as it is told by those who survived the Revolution as well as dramatic accounts of Reed’s coverage as he is played by Beatty with Diane Keaton as Bryant. Also starring Edward Herrmann, Maureen Stapleton, Jerzy Kosinski, Paul Sorvino, Nicolas Coster, Gene Hackman, and Jack Nicholson as Eugene O’Neill. Reds is an enthralling yet evocative film from Warren Beatty.
Set in the span of five years with interviews from those who lived during a tumultuous period in world history, the film is the story about the life of the journalist John Reed who tries to make a difference where he and his then-wife Louise Bryant would witness the Russian Revolution in 1917 where he would later try to create a similar revolution in the U.S. It’s a film that is sort of a rise-and-fall story where John Reed wants to do something in the world of socialism as he and several intellects want to do something for the workers while living a carefree lifestyle with Bryant who would later join him and become part of his world. Yet, it’s also a love story between these two from the moment they meet in his hometown of Portland, Oregon in 1915 where she aspires to be a journalist to his death in 1920 in Russia. All of which plays into two people wanting to make a difference for a better world where they eventually realize that it’s not as easy as they think it is.
The film’s screenplay by Warren Beatty and Trevor Griffiths, with additional contributions by Elaine May and Robert Towne, explores how Bryant and Reed met where it was merely by accident as Bryant heard of Reed through his work as a journalist as she is a socialite married to a dentist that has become bored of her world. After a series of gatherings, Bryant goes to New York City where she is introduced to Reed’s circle of friends and intellects that include the playwright Eugene O’Neill, Max Eastman (Edward Herrmann), and the renowned anarchist Emma Goldman (Maureen Stapleton). Bryant would be overwhelmed by these people but eventually would come into her own despite some issues with Reed as she feels like she doesn’t fit in. While their relationship had complications often due to Reed’s willingness to do something for the socialist movement in America with Bryant often being on her own where she would have an affair with O’Neill.
The first act would be about Bryant and Reed’s affair and their marriage where they try to have a normal life but things get troubled because of Reed’s frequent absences to cover things like the 1916 election and taking part in activist meetings. The second act would be about their time in Russia where Reed would write his seminal book as Bryant would find a role in giving lectures as the two believe they’ve done something where Reed goes from being a successful writer to trying to succeed in the world of politics where he tries to do something for an American communist party. Even as he would find himself sparing with other members about motives where he goes to Russia in the hope to get some endorsement. Instead, the third act represents Reed’s fall where he is stuck in Russia as he goes to the country illegally while unaware of the tension that is going on between Russia and Finland over ideals as well as the former’s own view of what communism should be prompting Bryant to make her journey to enter Russia illegally that would add a lot of the drama that occurs in the third act.
Beatty’s direction is quite vast as he would create something that is very offbeat in terms of its narrative structure as well as how he would dramatize these events and the real people involved. While his presentation with the interviews of the people such as the novelist Henry Miller, Roger Nash Baldwin, and many other people who were witnesses to these events that Reed and Bryant are simple. Even as they help set up certain stories about the two along with some gossip about what Reed and Bryant were doing as many of Beatty’s images sort of create images that look like paintings but also compositions that are rich and intoxicating. Most notably the scenes in New York and parts of Great Britain as the east coast to play into a time of innocence but also the desire for change as there’s some Americans who oppose going into World War I as they believe it’s all about profit.
For the scenes set in Russia, much of it is shot in Finland as well as a few locations in Spain and Sweden where it plays into a world that is quite big. Notably as Beatty takes great usage of the wide shots for a few scenes of conflict along with large images of rallies and marches that went on in Russia. There is something that feels grand in these scenes but once the film returns to Russia amidst a fallout over American communists disagreeing about what to do. The film does change where it is not just about the fallacies of revolutions but also why communism in America would never work as it would force Reed to see that as well as deal about what is more important as it relates to Bryant. Even as Bryant would go into her own journey to travel to Russia which would be just as adventurous as Reed’s which shows how much they love each other and why that love is more important than some revolution. Overall, Beatty creates an absolutely sensational and entrancing film about John Reed’s life and his love for Louise Bryant.
Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro does incredible work with the film‘s photography as it plays into a sense of naturalistic lighting schemes for some of the interiors and some of the daytime scenes along with its lush usage of lights for some scenes and some stylish filter shots to play into some of the exteriors set at night as it is one of the film‘s major highlights. Editors Dede Allen and Craig McKay do excellent work with the editing with its back-and-forth cutting style with the interviews and the dramatization as well as some rhythmic cuts for the action and dramatic moments in the film. Production designer Richard Sylbert, with set decorator Michael Sierton and art director Simon Holland, does amazing work with the design of some of the places in Russia from the palaces in its pre-revolution settings to the look of the apartments in its post-revolution as well as the homes in America where Reed and Bryant lived in.
Costume designer Shirley Ann Russell does fantastic work with the costumes to display what American socialites wore in the late 1910s as well as the more ragged look of the Russians during the post-revolution days. Sound editor Richard P. Cirincione does superb work with the sound to capture some of the sound work that goes on at the meetings as well as quieter moments though the highlight of the sound editing is in the way the recollections of the people interviewed are used in some of the scenes in the film. The film’s music by Stephen Sondheim and Dave Grusin is brilliant with Sondheim providing some old-school rag-time and jazz music to play into the period of the times while Grusin would bring in some orchestral pieces to play into the drama and action.
The casting by Noel Davis and Patsy Pollock is wonderful as it features notable small appearances from M. Emmet Walsh as a liberal party speaker, Roger Sloman as Vladimir Lenin, Oleg Kerensky as Alexander Kerensky, Stuart Richman as Leon Trotsky, George Plimpton as newspaper editor Horace Whigham, Nicholas Coster as Louise’s first husband Paul Trullinger, Harry Ditson as the political artist Maurice Becker, Max Wright as the literary critic Floyd Dell, William Daniels as a socialist party leader in Julius Gerber, and Gene Hackman in a small yet terrific performance as newspaper editor Peter Van Wherry. Paul Sorvino is excellent as an Italian founder of the American Communist party in Louis C. Fraina who wants to do something for the party but has a hard time trying to get things in order due to the demands of others including Reed.
Jerzy Kosinski is superb as Bolshevik leader Grigory Zinoviev who is trying to instill his idea of socialism as he would have conflicts with Reed over how loyal he is towards the revolution. Edward Herrmann is fantastic as Max Eastman as a friend of Reed who also is part of a socialist movement until things go a little too far as he decides to walk away from the movement. Maureen Stapleton is amazing as Emma Goldman as the renowned and outspoken anarchist who is against America’s participation in World War I as she wants socialism to come to America where she is later exiled to Russia where she becomes disillusioned with their ideas of socialism. Jack Nicholson is brilliant as Eugene O’Neill as the playwright who begins an affair with Bryant as he is a man of passion and care while he copes with wanting to be something for Bryant that Reed couldn’t be as he would later help her in the third act.
Diane Keaton is phenomenal as Louise Bryant as a socialite who aspires to write as she befriends Reed and later becomes his wife where she gets caught up in his world where Keaton brings a lot of weight and charisma to her performance. Finally, there’s Warren Beatty in a remarkable performance as John Reed as a journalist who is eager to do something in the hopes he can do good for the workers of America as he would cover the Russian Revolution and later deal with illness and disillusionment over the way the Russians would run things in its aftermath. Beatty and Keaton have some great chemistry in their scenes together in the way they argue as well as in tender moments as they both provide moments that are truly among the highlights of the film.
Reds is a tremendously sprawling and rich film from Warren Beatty that features great performances from Beatty, Diane Keaton, Maureen Stapleton, Edward Herrmann, Paul Sorvino, and Jack Nicholson. Along with Vittorio Storaro’s gorgeous cinematography as well as some amazing technical work and interviews from those who lived during that period. It’s a film that isn’t just an interesting historical film that explores America’s brief flirtation with socialism and the Russian Revolution but also an insight into a man’s attempt for change nearly cost him everything including the woman he loves. In the end, Reds is an outstanding film from Warren Beatty.
Warren Beatty Films: (Heaven Can Wait) - (Dick Tracy) - (Bulworth) - (Untitled Howard Hughes Project)
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