It was also the perfect day to watch a movie, as I did with the next Best Picture nominee from 1981's contest...
Warren Beatty and Trevor Griffiths
Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Edward Hermann, Jerzy Kosinski, Jack Nicholson, Paul Sorvino, Maureen Stapleton, Gene Hackman
3 wins, including Best Director and Best Supporting Actress (Stapleton)
As relevant today as it was almost thirty years ago when it was released, Reds dares to feature a communist as its protagonist. Jack Reed is a writer and political activist who shacks up with fellow radical Louise Bryant. Their relationship is rocky, however, mostly because Jack's attempts to change the world result in neglect of his lover. Nonetheless, they travel to Russia together to write about and take part in the Revolution of 1917 that saw the communists take over the government. In an attempt to bring these socialist ideals to America, Jack finds himself torn between his love of Louise and his desire to bring about political change.
In an interview for the special edition DVD, Warren Beatty indicates that, with Reds, he wanted to address the "mistaken paranoia about communism" that pervaded American society. Communism, whether you agree with its philosophy or not, is a legitimate political movement. However, through some clever marketing, the words communism and socialism somehow became synonymous with evil. Of course, like any political ideal, it has its flaws and the idealistic and passionate Jack Reed tried his darnedest to make it work, seemingly misunderstood from all sides. The right wing hated him for obvious reasons, but even his own comrades took issue with him occasionally, as he watched the party lose sight of its initial intentions.
At its heart, though, Reds is a love story. For all their decrying of the culture of marriage, Jack and Louise quite obviously can't live without each other. They may advocate sexual freedom and denounce any sense that either belongs to the other, yet when push comes to shove, they need each other like a flower needs a bee.
Scattered throughout the unfolding drama are excerpts from interviews with some contemporaries of the real Jack and Louise. On paper, a bunch of elderly people reminiscing about old times seems more appropriate for a retirement home than a serious motion picture, but these fascinating characters are anything but old farts. Their insights and anecdotes, seamlessly integrated into the story, are utterly engaging. There's something about a wrinkled face that screams, "I've lived!"
Wearing four different hats, Warren Beatty is clearly the mastermind behind Reds. Along with Orson Welles, he holds the rare distinction of receiving Oscar nominations for acting, directing, writing and producing the same film. Unlike the Citizen Kane helmer, though, Beatty has done it twice - first for Heaven Can Wait, and three years later for Reds. And all four nominations are certainly well deserved here. His script with co-writer Trevor Griffiths is nothing short of superb. Witty and, if you can believe it, economical. Despite its almost three and a half hour running time, the story - the first half in particular - unfolds in a whirlwind of short scenes that deliver exactly the necessary information - no more, no less. Its wit is evident in such exchanges as the one in which Reed is asked his occupation by a threatening foe. After hearing the response, the man quips, "You write? Uh-uh. You wrong."
Beatty's direction, too, is a brilliant achievement, lending the film a real fly-on-the-wall feel, an attribute enhanced by the improvisational quality of the performances. Beatty, Keaton, Nicholson, Hackman - could you ask for more? Maureen Stapleton rightfully earned her Best Supporting Actress award for her fine portrayal of activist Emma Goldman. And 80s sitcom fans should keep an eye out for ALF patriarch, Max Wright, as one of Jack's bohemian colleagues.