Friday, October 06, 2006

NYFF day three: Reds

This is one of the big ones, and the last major film to ever have a built in intermission:


Written and Directed
By Warren Beatty

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” George Santayana famously said, and this maxim is no more apparent than in this golden oldie from 1981.

90 years ago, there was a presidential election going on, and there was a war. Snooty art exhibits and effete intellectuals looking down their noses at the unwashed masses and claiming to act in their name, too.

People wore strange clothing and the music was early ragtime instead of rock and hip hop, but other than that, the people are all very familiar. What’s strange about this film is that were it not for the strange music and costume, most of the dialogue could have come from the 2000s.

John Reed (Warren Beatty) was a journalist and intellectual who was slightly famous for his book on the Mexican revolution. Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) was an early feminist who was outgrowing her husband and professionally latched on to Reed, following her to Greenwich Villiage and hanging out with the likes of playwright Eugene O’Neill (Jack Nicholson) and über-anarchist Emma Goldman(Maureen Stapleton)

The chattering classes then are the chattering classes now. The technology was more primitive but the people are the same. Disillusioned with the war and the status quo, they became radicalized and headed to Russia to watch the Revolution there. They had a real blast.

John Reed as Sean Penn. The silly infighting between far left factions still goes on, and the president still thinks he’s God.
To understand today, you have to understand the past.

The film is long, very long. In fact, it was the last major release to actually have a built-in intermission. The action in the film has the structure of a series of flashbacks in between genuine interviews with the last survivors of that time. The “witnesses” are really interesting and their reminisces, pertinent.

The acting is terrific and we’ve got a bunch of old masters back when they were still rather young doing what they do best.

The film’s coming out on DVD after a very limited theatrical re-release. Catch it if you’ve got the time and wait a couple of weeks and rent it if you don’t.

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