Friday, November 6, 2009

The Color Of Passion

Reds(1981)Directed By Warren Beatty
"Were there socialists...I don't remember?"-WitnessA beguiling mix of contradictions; real life testimonies and Hollywood melodramatic recreation. Turning early 20th century romantic notions of the radical citizen journalist into modern romantic notions of bourgeoisie relationship drama. The tension between "the authentic revolutionary spirit" and American middle class adventurism runs pronounced through the characters, their marriage, and the structure of the film itself, where real life "witnesses" to the events chime in every half hour or so to complicate things with their messy memories, anecdotes, and opinions.Beatty opts for the most conventional versions of events, and some history get's lost completely. You would have no idea watching this that Louise Bryant was known for her "feminist" writings as well as her Journalism, or that both her and Jack Reed had numerous love affairs more proponents of "free love" than the film gives them credit for (in the movie they are constantly struggling with monogamy). As Oniel says "...for a radical you've got some very middle class dreams".One witness attests, "rumor was the two of the them and Eugene O'Niel had a menage à trois", but I imagine it's easier for 1981 (Cold War audience) to take a romantic triangle. When given the option between the truth and the legend, go with the test audience.Also to allude to Reed's death Beatty cut's to a Russian woman praying, hardly the image that would encapsulate a die in the wool Socialist, but one which would resonate easily with an American audience.The performances are a joy to watch though, Keaton and Beatty and then Nicholson's verbal sparring is invigorating. The only other Beatty film Ive ever seen is his 90's comedy "Bullworth", also about a "political radical" if a fictionalized and intentionally zany one. Though the romance is Hollywood incarnate, as Slavoj Zizek points out, it was just as common for soviet films under Stalin to make their own versions of epic Hollywood romances (often with Iron Joe himself stepping into give his blessing on a marriage or a romantic dispute; Stalin as sex symbol).The irony of the montage of the lovers in Russia during the Revolution where "The Internationale" plays in the background, is one I have to imagine Beatty is aware of.The camera focuses in on two individuals, marching, having sex, frolicking, and marching some more, in a song about collective resistance and worker's solidarity. Rather like a commercial extolling individuality, freedom, and creativity featuring sexy teens dancing and smiling, only to end as an add for Mayonnaise. Also the pronounced difference between the collegiate fun of pre-revolutionary life and the great party of the revolution itself, is opposite the hangover and disillusionment, romantic separation, illness and despair of the beginnings of the Soviet government proper.So for all it's slant why is the film so worth watching? Despite it's problems it's works excellently as a love story which revolves around romantic intellectualism; one of passion, sex, contradictions, and debate.Beatty's awareness of his historical limitations, makes a post modern game of them, as the initially random comments of the "witnesses" begin to comment on the events of the film later.The heart of the movie is the story of the couple negotiating career and a sense of place in history, with their private passions and personal feelings, "We were too embarrassed to tell anyone we got married...". Regardless of Henry Miller and Eugene O'Niel's reproaches, there is sincerity and dedication in the characters to their belief's and ideals, that is rarely found in Hollywood films and much of modern life. We become a part of the character's passions both personal and political, without being asked to suspend our sense of history or doubts as to the efficacy of their projects.One of the most thoughtful gifts Ive ever received was an Emma Goldman (who I was once intensely fascinated with) button from a girlfriend, reading her popular maxim "If I can't dance I don't want to be a part of your revolution!" which Goldman is claimed to have said to a young socialist who reproached her for enjoying an American dance hall (and it's "decadent" pop music).What was the point of revolution without sex, music, and joy? Most people who noticed it (usually after a few drinks) assumed I was very pro-Dance Dance Revolution. I was slowly and annoyingly amassing a reputation as the DDR guy, and after many a glazed over look as I tried to explain early 20th century Anarchism, I eventually gave up and stopped wearing the button altogether. Buttons always eventually fall off anyway, and it became one I didn't want to loose or even share. It's value as a sentimental romantic keep-sake came to outweigh the political message I had initially been more attracted to.The point is love and politics is tricky business and also that I got excited when Emma Goldman was on screen in this movie (hopefully she can one day get a bio-pic of her own)."Reds" at three hours was never boring, often beautiful, fascinating, and frustrating in the same scene. This is the Jack Reed story first and foremost, it ends with his death and we have no idea what happens to Bryant afterward (another of the films foibles), but still I had a wonderful time watching this, struggling through it's strange brew of emotions, intellect, flat out lies, and legends.And now Jeff Mangum sings a song:"Sweet communist
The communist daughter
Standing on the sea-weed water Semen stains the mountain tops
Semen stains the mountain tops
With coca leaves along the border
Sweetness sings from every corner Cars careening from the clouds
The bridges burst and twist around
And wanting something warm and moving
Bends towards herself the soothing
Proves that she must still exist She moves herself about her fist
Sweet communist
The communist daughter
Standing on the sea-weed water Semen stains the mountain tops
Semen stains the mountain tops"
-"Communist Daughter", Neutral Milk Hotel

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