At the Directors Guild of America theater on a recent Saturday night, Warren Beatty watched "Reds" with an audience for the first time in 25 years.
It's not that he didn't want to see the movie since its release in 1981. After all, he directed, produced, co-wrote and costarred in the film about two American revolutionaries. In many ways, it was the one project that was always with him. It established him as a serious-minded actor with a deep interest in politics; it became the foundation for everything political he would do since.
But how would it hold up?
The DGA screening was a celebration, of sorts, for the "Reds" release today on DVD. Beatty was in the company of those who remember the days when Hollywood was still making epic films with intermissions. "It probably never would have been made today," Beatty said.
Afterward, the crowd gave a standing ovation to Beatty, who said he was surprised by the reaction — the audience's and his own. The movie that he created at the height of the Cold War and in the midst of Reagan economics, had suddenly taken on new meaning in a time of real war.
"It's more assessable now than it was then," said Beatty, in an interview. "It was fascinating to me the audience's response. The jokes were clearer, the remarks more resonant. The things that we attempt to excuse in the name of patriotism are clearer, as is the futility of war.
"These values, these conflicts are eternal."
Perhaps, Beatty reflected, he should have pushed for the release of the movie on DVD sooner. There's a lot in the 3 1/2-hour movie to absorb. Home viewing makes sense.
The digitally restored movie, released by Paramount, is available on two discs, with six "Witness to Reds" featurettes about the making of the film.
"I've never really paid attention to the DVD," Beatty said. "I've never pushed to have DVDs released on any of my movies, let alone 'Reds.' I never realized it was as important to that incarnation as I now do. It allows the older and more sophisticated audiences to experience the movies on their own terms."
"Capote" director Bennett Miller, who moderated Beatty's Q&A after the "Reds" screening, said he welcomed the DVD release. He managed to find a VHS tape of the movie years ago and has watched it over and over. It has served as a guide for what cinema could accomplish, he told Beatty. "This movie takes on all the problems of humanity," Miller said.
The movie portrays the life of John Reed, a Portland-born rebel who believes in the Communist cause so passionately that he travels to Russia in 1917 to participate in the revolution. Along the way, Reed (Beatty) falls in love with equally idealistic Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton).
"It may be to Beatty's credit that he doesn't delete or water down the serious political issues that rage throughout the film," Los Angeles Times film critic Sheila Benson wrote when the film was released. "It was an unparalleled time, and Beatty gives it full weight."
"I've always been interested in the conflict between the personal life and the public life," Beatty said recently. "Those factors always touched me about the story between the young idealists. It moved me that they gave up what many people are comforted by in their personal lives — they never had a child. And Reed dies before they can continue their lives."
Coming of age in the '60s, Beatty said "Reds" gave him an outlet to "dramatize things that I felt I knew about." It was a huge success, with 12 Academy Award nominations.
The actor said he screened the film for President Ronald Reagan, a personal friend, at the White House.
Reagan was fascinated. "He turned to me and said, 'I didn't know you can produce and write and direct and act at the same time,' " Beatty said. "Then the president said: 'I was kind of hoping for a happy ending.' "
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