Thursday, February 13, 2014

Lazy Movie Weekend: Valentine's Day Edition - You can do anything you want except smoke during a monologue

"I always wanted somebody who wouldn't care what hour you went to bed or what hour you got up, and who lived in the way Jack did."
-Louise Bryant, as quoted in Queen of Bohemia by Mary V. Dearborn

In college, three of my favorite non-major courses were history courses: a course on the American Revolution, on heroes in American History, and the history of the American Left. It's in this last course that I first saw the film Reds. Reds is Warren Beatty's sweeping 1981 epic about John Reed and Louise Bryant, journalists, lovers, spouses, and revolutionaries who are swept up in the October Revolution in Russia. Both would produce books about the experience: Reed's Ten Days That Shook the World focuses on the political and documents the events like a historian while Bryant's Six Red Months in Russia looked more at the day to day life following the revolution. She also interviewed many of the women who played important roles in the revolution and the fledgling government.

The film tells this story but also that of Reed and Bryant and their great love affair. Theirs was not an easy love story but it's a fascinating one. As much as Reds is about the tumultuous story of the American Left in the turn of the century and the rise of Communism in Russia, it's mostly a story of two passionate and stubborn people who found themselves in the most amazing places at exactly the right time.

Today's post isn't about Communism or politics; it's about love. I'm currently reading a biography of Louise Bryant and learning more about this complex and practically forgotten figure in the American Left. While I appreciate the look at feminism and the suffrage movement, what I'm enjoying the most right now is the story of Louise and John particularly the way that they described one another in letters and to friends. It's the kind of affection and mutual respect and admiration for one another that rom-coms just don't deliver. One of my favorite passages was from a letter she wrote while in France covering the war, "I just want my honey. Wherever he is, is home." And Reed described her as "wild and brave and straight, and graceful, and lovely to look at."Maybe people then were just better at talking about how they felt about one another. And, of course, they wrote to one another.

Granted, they were also awful to each other. Both believed, or claimed to believe, in the free love and having an open relationship even after they married. However, neither ever seemed (not in the film and not in the biography) to be able to deal with the jealousy and feelings that arrangement created. Regardless, they both had affairs. Lots of affairs. Most famously, Louise had an affair with the playwright Eugene O'Neil. Despite the hurt and betrayals, Louise and John (also called Jack) always found their way back to each other.

And that brings us back to Reds. Every time I watch this film, I fall into the story of Louise and John more and more. It wasn't my intention to make this movie my Valentine's Day tradition but two years ago it just sort of happened. It was on AMC on Valentine's Day and I had no plans so I ordered some takeout and spent just over three hours with two of my favorite actors bringing to life a fantastic and powerful story.

So comrades, let's watch Reds.
  1. Musical theatre nerd alert: The music is by Stephen Sondheim y'all. It's such a wonderful score and excellent use of period songs that perfectly.
  2. Beatty, who won an Oscar for Best Director for the film, began work on the "Witnesses" portions of the film as early as 1971. These were real people who were part of the action depicted in the film. Some knew Reed, Bryant, or both. Others were important in the various political and social causes of the day. Henry Miller, Roger Nash Baldwin (the founder of the ACLU), Dora Russell (a delegate to the Comintern with Reed), and Andrew Dasburg (a sculptor and one of Louise's lovers) are among the witnesses. What I like about these vignettes is that they add context and first person impressions where the film might not be able to go into more detail.
  3. So many fantastic actors! Edward Herrmann (Mr. Gilmore) as Max Eastman, Paul Sorvino, Jack Nicholson as Eugene O'Neil, and the amazing Maureen Stapleton as Emma Goldman. Stapleton won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role.
  4. I'd follow Reds era Warren Beatty anywhere - New York, Russia, Finland, back to Russia. It doesn't even matter. 
  5. Diane Keaton is stunning - she takes up so much space on screen even when she says nothing. And there are moments when she looks at Jack or Gene (O'Neil) and it's sublime. One of her best lines, "I'd like to see you with your pants off, Mr. Reed." You can tell Reed was not expecting that.
  6. "If you want to have freedom, you gotta go where the freedom is, don't you?" Jack to Louise as he tries to convince her to come to New York.
  7. "What as?" Louise and Jack have the same conversation throughout the film about what she is to him (what is she coming to New York as is the starting point). For two people who were as progressive as they both were about so many things, they were really pretty traditional when it came to love and specifically about marriage. Of course, they would never want their friends to know that. I love the way they come back to this at the very end of the film. 
  8. "You have to be a bit of a rebel to be an artist of any kind." a Witness. Word. 
  9. I wish I could wear hats like Diane Keaton. Really, I wish I could be Diane Keaton.
  10. Jack brings Louise white lilies - he remembered her favorite flower.
  11. "I want to stop living in your margins." I love this line!
  12. My favorite line of the entire movie: Eugene O'Neil to Louise after she ends their affair, "You can do anything you want except not see me and smoke during a monologue."
  13. The poem O'Neil gives Louise - Jack Nicholson wrote an actual poem for Diane Keaton and that's what he gives her in the film.
  14. I didn't know how involved Louise and Jack were in the formation of the Provincetown Players. It was the first modern theatre to produce original works by American playwrights (O'Neil being one of its chief writers).
  15. The man on the train as they head off to Russia - he's basically telling dad jokes and they are extraordinary.
  16. In the same scenes, Louise's fur collared coat. You just have to see it.
  17. The film depicts them as partners in Russia not so much a married couple. This is partially true according to the biography I'm reading. Louise used their time in Russia to focus on their relationship but also became a more focused and accomplished writer during this time. They were not as separated before Russia, as the film suggests, but I do love watching them fall in love again against the backdrop of revolution. Because I'm a super sappy human being.
  18. "I've heard you and Louise have decided to be happy." Max Eastman to Jack
  19. I love the way Beatty used the witnesses over the action of the film. There's a great sequence of a birthday dinner for Louise (that he haphazardly prepares) over people describing him as "revolutionary." 
  20. There was just so much going on socially and politically during their lifetime. How could you not get swept up into it? But on the other side, I can see how Louise would start to lose interest as she lost Jack to the party and politics.
  21. And then Jack goes back to Russia and there is the epic story arc of the two of them trying to get back to one another (he to the US and she to Russia via Finland). If that's not love, I really don't know what is.
  22. The Soviet Union asked the Finnish government to make filming difficult for Beatty and company. They didn't want to upset their larger and more powerful neighbor so the Finnish government complied.
  23. "You separate a man from what he loves the most, what you do is purge what's unique about him. When you purge what's unique, you purge dissent. And when you purge dissent, you kill the revolution." Jack, before he attempts to leave Russia to go back to Louise.
  24. I love the scenes between Louise and Emma Goldman throughout the film. One of the common themes in the biography I'm reading is how no one really took Louise seriously; she was John's wife and wrote sometimes. Even after their initial time in Russia and the success of her book, she wasn't taken seriously because she dressed well and cared about her appearance (which revolutionaries hate apparently). Emma was an important figure in Reed's life and didn't seem to care about Louise. Their shared scenes are about the evolution of Louise as a person, a feminist, and a writer.
  25. The reunion at the train station. I've seen this movie 5 or 6 times and I cry every time. And then I continue crying until the end of the film. 
Reed died in Russia October 17, 1920. Louise was at his side when he died (as depicted in the film). He was buried in the Kremlin, one of the few Americans interred there. As was the tradition, Louise walked behind his coffin in the procession, alone.

Sometimes you just need a good old fashioned love story to renew your faith in humanity and love. I hope everyone enjoys their Valentine's Day and enjoys watching Reds.

John Reed and Louise Bryant
Warren and Diane
The Triangle

No comments:

Post a Comment