Reds, Blu-ray (1981) Special Collectors’ Edition

by | Apr 19, 2007 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Reds, Blu-ray (1981) Special Collectors’ Edition

Directed by Warren Beatty
Starring: Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Jerzy Kosinski
Studio: Paramount 11977 (2 discs)
Video: Enhanced for 16:9 widescreen, 1080p HD
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DD 2.0 mono, French & Spanish DD 2.0 mono
Subtitles: English SDH, English, French, Spanish
Extras on Disc 2: 7 featurettes: The Rising, Comrades, Testimonials, The March, Revolution Parts 1 & 2, Propaganda; New theatrical trailer in HD
Length: 195 minutes
Rating: *****

This is a perfect time to reissue this excellent film, and it’s a perfect choice for the hi-def treatment since the scenes- shot all over the world – are full of fascinating details and the design is ferociously artistic, with Rembrandesque lighting and some of the scenes looking like painting of the period. Reds has to be just as successful a film as Beatty’s Bonnie & Clyde. The film garnered more Academy Award nominations than any film had in 15 years.

Beatty’s intent was to deal with the story of the American left during the First World War period. The central figures are John Reed, an American journalist whose writing about first labor organizing and then the Russian Revolution gets him embroiled in the latter to such an extent that there is no way out for him. Against this historical background is set the love affair of Reed and writer/feminist Louise Bryant, played by Keaton. Nicholson plays Eugene O’Neil and Maureen Stapleton is Emma Goldman.  There is plenty of political arguing at conference tables in the film, but it supports the story of what Reed had to deal with. He is, by the way, the only American buried in the Kremlin.

The recently-prepared extras are on a level with the film.  Beatty, Nicholson, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and others talk about the project. Considering the usual Hollywood attitude, it was totally amazing that Beatty got the backing from Paramount to do the film in the first place. As he describes it, “an over three-hour film about a famous American communist who dies.”  He couldn’t even give the studio an idea of the cost.  The shooting locations included the U.S., Britain, Finland, Sweden, Spain, and above the Arctic Circle.  Beatty had originally wanted to shoot the Russian scenes in the Soviet Union, but in a slip-of-the-tongue he referred to “the Bolshevik takeover,” and after that he realized he wasn’t going to get any cooperation from the Russians. So Finland became the stand-in for Russia.

Another extraordinary featurette is on the “Witnesses” who open the film with their memories of Reed and/or Bryant and WWI.  Beatty ran classifieds in newspapers asking for people who had known the pair to contact him.  The final list – filmed in artistic fashion against a totally black background – included Henry Miller, George Jessel, and Howard Lippman. Beatty drew them out, getting their comments on the personalities and the times. He even included some right-wing figures for their negative comments about Reed, and had to be careful when scheduling them that they didn’t run into the leftists. Some of the historical information spoken by the witnesses – such as how many millions died in WWI – is also used on the soundtrack to set some of the scenes, thus avoiding titles, narration, or having the actors speak the facts themselves.

Both Stephen Sondheim and Dave Grusin contributed to the music score – the former to mainly the love theme and the latter to the ricky-tick piano numbers that accompanied some sections of the film. The transfer looks glorious, with the sweeping vistas captured by Storaro are doubly effective.  Occasionally there is a hint of film grain, most noticeably in a closeup of Bryant’s face during the reunion with Reed at the Moscow train station – it is clearly an enlarged portion of the frame, and so bad that it would certainly be noticed on theatrical screens as well as in this HD transfer. Just the exception proving the rule – this is a terrific film!

 – John Sunier

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