‘Voting is the opium of the masses’
Twenty-five years after its original release, the great thrill of Reds still lies in watching Warren Beatty swing his humongous clout around. That’s how he convinced Gulf & Western-owned Paramount to bankroll him to write, produce, direct and star in an expensive, three-hours-plus historical epic that romanticizes real-life American communists like John Reed and Emma Goldman, and features a sad ending to boot.
Beatty stars as Reed, a politically active early 20th-century journalist who took a keen interest in Bolsheviks and wound up writing Ten Days That Shook the World. Diane Keaton plays headstrong proto-feminist Louise Bryant, a fellow writer who both loved and felt overshadowed by Reed. The competitive spark in their romantic relationship drives Reds, as Bryant follows Reed from Portland to New York to the Russian Revolution.
Less a history of communism than a sweeping romance that uses communism’s rise as a historical backdrop, Reds certainly delivers the goods. Beatty’s film is a large, impressive production, extremely well-acted, lovingly mounted, and consistently entertaining. It almost seems like hair-splitting to point out that the emotional nuances are more understood than felt, and that Vittorio Storaro’s photography and Richard Sylbert’s production design are the real stars of the picture.
While Reds may be memorable for the cinematic palatability of its extreme-left political content, it’s also a sad and compelling reminder that a director once could squeeze nudity, suggested penetration, and multiple F-bombs into a PG-rated movie, which might say more about the current losing battle against American fascism than anything else in Beatty’s film.
Reds is available on DVD for the first time in a two-disc, 25th anniversary edition. There is only one major extra feature: the lengthy documentary Witness to Reds—it’s your usual Hollywood hand-job, but notable for the participation of Beatty, who typically shuns such endeavors.