Review - Reds (DVD-2006)
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Reds 25th Anniversary Edition (DVD-2006)

Paramount Home Video

Reviewed by Tim Sika


Reds is probably Warren Beatty’s greatest film.  As writer, producer, director and star, it’s certainly his most personal.  An historical epic drama which marshaled the vast commercial resources of Paramount Pictures in 1980/1981 into the creation of an essentially non-commercial product, Reds, in the director’s own words, was “a three and a half hour movie about a communist who dies.” That communist was American liberal journalist John Reed, who chronicled the 1917 Russian Revolution in his classic book Ten Days That Shook The World.  Reed’s account so captured the emotion and historical significance of this global altering event that when he died in Russia in 1920 he was acclaimed a Bolshevik hero, given a state funeral and buried in the Kremlin—the only American to hold that distinction. 


Reds tackles the development of the American Left political movement in the United States between 1915-1920; the East/West social and political upheaval of the times; the relationship between Reed and socialist progressive Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton in some of her finest dramatic work); the events that led to Reed’s writing of Ten Days That Shook The World; and Reed’s work in the formation of the American Communist Party in 1919.


Sprawling, brilliantly photographed, cast and written (with one of the greatest pre-intermission sequences in the history of movies)  Reds is first and foremost a love story set amidst the epic backdrop of the Russian Revolution and the birth of American Communism, suffused with political, polemical and dialectical arguments about socialism, and art versus politics.  Like Welles’ Citizen Kane it is also cold, bracing, arresting and intelligent, and takes subsequent viewings to warm up to and digest.  It is also as uncompromised a Hollywood project as Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo; Spike Lee’s Bamboozled; Howard Hawkes’ Bringing Up Baby; or any of Stanley Kubrick’s films-- post-2001: A Space Odyssey.


Motivated by Beatty’s own political activism of the time, Reds seems strangely relevant today in view of concerns over endless assaults upon the Constitution, freedom and human rights by the Bush administration and the hijacking of the Republican Party by extreme Christian evangelicals.  Beatty, with the help of English playwright—and Marxist—Trevor Griffiths makes clear his admiration for the party’s ideals as opposed to what it became in practice in a climactic speech, which is one of the most cogent delineations between political idealism and pragmatism in the history of American political cinema.


(Play clip)


If there’s a flaw in Reds it is that it’s stuffed to the brim with characters and situations which fly by so fast that one is barely able to take them in, and which, on their own, would make compelling subjects for other feature-length movies—John Reed’s coverage of Poncho Villa and insurgent Mexico; the politics of World War I;  historical personages like entrepreneur Max Eastman; playwright Eugene O’Neill; and women’s rights activist Emma Goldman; or for that matter any one of the real-life Witnesses who frame and historically presence the onscreen drama.  These include Henry Miller, Hamilton Fisk and Adela Rogers St. Johns (who, we are told, wrote the Nixon “Checkers” speech).  This is also Reds’ strength, however; its scope, writing and cinematic density are so rich that they become more and more interesting—and emotional—on repeated viewings.


The Deluxe 2-disc Paramount Home Video release also contains superb extras (7 short “Witness To Reds” films, covering every aspect of production, written, produced and directed by the stalwartly reliable Laurent Bouzereau) which tell you everything you ever wanted to know about this extraordinary achievement in American Hollywood filmmaking.


The release of Reds on DVD from Paramount Home Video 25 years after its theatrical release, 12 Academy Award nominations, and 3 wins, including Best Director is a cause for rejoicing, and a must-own for any serious movie-lover.


2006 Tim Sika/Celluloid Dreams



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