Sunday, March 20, 2011

Reds, 30th anniversary

Has it been thirty years? I remember local members of the Communist Party, one of whom had known Louise Bryant, being excited about its release.

I also know some Maoists who thought there was way too much romance between Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton in the movie.

The Maoists may have had a point.

Hugh Iglarsh has an article on writes:
... the October Revolution is to Reds as the burning of Atlanta is to Gone with the Wind. It is an extravagant background, against which emerges a curiously off-kilter picture of John Reed. For all his flaws and limitations, Reed struggled mightily to become part of something bigger than himself, to find immortality not in his personal literary work, but in his cause, to which he indeed did give all. Yet the film de-emphasizes the milieu in which he was most truly himself, that of radical politics and journalism, and focuses on the domestic sphere, which, even by the evidence of the film, was not where his talents or inclinations lay.
Read the article here:

An interesting critique of the movie.
I’ve strung together some tales gathered from biographies of Warren Beatty and added some commentary. I hope to contextualize Reds on the 30th anniversary of its release by considering it in light of the concepts that define both the story itself and the man who made it: myth, history, celebrity, biography, politics, commodity, publicity, career. I argue that Reds is not the movie it sees itself as, nor that it could be; it is so closely bound to its creator that it cannot succeed in connecting us to the past.
Later in the article:
The movie could plausibly end with the fall of the Winter Palace in Petrograd and the rapturous union of Reed and Bryant, happy together at last as the triumphant revolution unfolds around them. Instead it tacks on another hour and a half, essentially replaying part one in a minor key, ending with Reed’s death amid squalor and futility. Made in a town built on the happy ending, the film goes out of its way to close sadly. It seems Beatty’s point is to bury John Reed’s culture and circle of acquaintance, not to praise it. “Reed chooses political commitment over personal commitment, and is punished by death, the ultimate disincentive,” pronounces biographer Biskind.
So what is Reds? I see it as one of those dreams in which the dreamer plays all the roles, the victim being chased as well as the monster at his heels. Warren Beatty is John Reed himself; but as the film’s creator, he is also the imaginative force behind the hack magazine editor in New York who chops up Reed’s story without his permission, and the Soviet commissar who deliberately mistranslates Reed’s speech to make it more accessible to the masses. Beatty is the difficult actor and the demanding director, the visionary artist and the philistine movie producer, the virile Hollywood lone eagle and the emasculating Hollywood system, all wrapped up in one handsome but somewhat vacant and self-negating package.

...Reds is the tale of a man of ability and intelligence who nevertheless fails to negotiate the boundary between outsider and insider and is torn apart by the conflict between the two roles. But whom are we now describing: John Reed or Warren Beatty?
One thing...

I knew an old Wobbly. He had been in the IWW, later in the Communist Party, until he was driven out by an undercover FBI agent who felt threatened by him. He was in his 80s when I met him, and he was still physically imposing.

One thing he talked about, which they showed in Reds, was parliamentary procedure. Anarchists, perhaps ironically, used proper parliamentary procedure back then.

This came to an end in the '60s. It wasn't the radicals, but the conservatives who stopped it. The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek, among others, called for an end to the teaching of parliamentary procedure because campus radicals were using it to conduct their meetings.

The old guy I knew was disgusted by the round robin discussions that political meeting had been reduced to.

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