Reds
R1 - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (1st November 2006).
The Film

John Reed is about as interesting a figure as any politician from history's greatest moments, iconic filmmakers or anyone that has been etched into history for their exploits, good or bad. Reed grew up in Portland, Oregon to a upper middle class family with good standing in the community. He attended Harvard University and was also a talented and head strong journalist. He had developed a reputation for covering labor issues appearing sympathetic to the workers cause. The early seeds that were planted which would later result to his socialist views. He would cover the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, travelling to Russia he interviewed Vladimir Lenin which became the subject of a book "Ten Days That Shook The World". Reed not only shared a passion for his work being a brilliant writer who understood the power of words but he was also a sordid lover of women who possessed a mischievous appeal. I can see why this man's life would appeal so much to Warren Beatty, as these two seem to share similar character traits (Beatty himself was also a sordid lover of women who possessed a mischievous appeal and for years was known as Hollywood's most famous bachelor).
Beatty began this project in the 70's filming eye-witness accounts of events from people that knew Reed and his wife Louise Bryant as they recall moments in the lives of these two people. This footage would later be integrated into the film that helps move the narrative along from one event to the other. Interjecting these documentary style talking heads within what is essentially a bio-pic was a relatively fresh concept (a similar style was also used for Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's 2003 film "American Splendor").
Interspersed between the real-life testimony of these people are segments from Reed's life leading up to his Russian adventure. Reed is played by Warren Beatty himself who also directed the film. I have always wondered how difficult it would be to direct oneself and also other actors that share scenes with you. It mustn't be a simple task yet Beatty makes it look easy, delivering a naturalistic performance of this interesting character. His love interest is played by Diane Keaton and their chemistry lights up the screen. They're relationship feels real an aim that Beatty was hoping to achieve with his direction. Supporting players also lend their own brand of genius to the film with such actors as Jack Nicholson sleazing his way into the frame, with Paul Sorvino, M. Emmet Walsh and an uncredited Gene Hackman all making their mark on this film. Beatty certainly must have had his hands full dealing with so many big Hollywood egos, but the truth of the matter is that never shows on screen, no grandstanding or scene stealing is present on Beatty's watch. The results of which earned the film Oscar nominations in all the acting categories, a feat not repeated since.
Adding to the film's texture is it's photography by veteran lens man Vittorio Storaro, "Reds" was the first film to use the ENR variable silver retention development process developed at Technicolor Rome. This process allowed the filmmakers to shoot these scenes with colors pushed up and the result is that each scene looks like a portrait. Storaro would win his second Oscar at the time for his stunning work on this film.
Although I enjoyed the film's performances, candid interview segments and visual style, the film does have it's weaknesses. The length for one is taxing, running at close to 195 minutes this film requires a patience to get through, there were many scenes that could have been dropped for a leaner effect. Additionally I found the film rather aimless, jumping from one event to the next without a core narrative, instead this feels like a 195 minute highlight reel of a man's life and socialist beliefs. The fine performances was what kept me glued to the screen if that wasn't the case this film could have been a disaster.
Overall "Reds" has the makings of an epic masterpiece but just falls short of that, rent it for the performances but buy it only if this film is a absolute must for your DVD collection

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 this transfer is a restored image and presents the film as accurately as director of photography Storaro and director Beatty would have intended. The colors display wonderful saturation, with blacks deep and bold. I did notice very minor bleed with some red lighting and skin tones are a little on a orange/red side at times but I believe this is intentional. The image is generally sharp and clean although I did spot some minor print damage and grain, aside from that I could not spot any major problems with this transfer and am pleased to say that paramount has given this film a fine treatment for it's debut on DVD.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included on this release an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono as well as a French Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its English soundtrack. Considering this film is 25 years old don't expect anything amazing out of this track, the film is mostly dialogue based until the Russian Revolution sequences that call for a little more action, until then the sound is mostly directed at the front speakers offer little depth. The music comes across all channels but doesn't immerse the viewer as one would have expected.
Optional subtitles are also included in English.

Extras

Paramount have included a new 7-part documentary and a new DVD trailer for this 2-disc 25th Anniversary Edition release. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

DISC ONE:

The first disc includes a single supplement, a new DVD trailer which runs for 1 minute 24 seconds, I'm not entirely sure why the original trailers or TV spots were not included in this set, but I suppose this will do.

DISC TWO:

A newly produced 7-part documentary is the major extra on this release. These sections can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' option. This documentary covers the following:

- The first part is called "The Rising" which runs for 6 minutes 30 seconds includes filmmaker Warren Beatty as he talks about why he wanted to make this film and how the subject of communism and the fear of it in America interested him as well as the character of John Reed and the people whom he associated with. Beatty talks about writing the treatment, collaborating with another writer, how he got financing for the film and his association with Paramount Pictures.

- "Comrades" is the second part and runs for 13 minutes 29 seconds and takes a closer look at the casting of the film as Beatty comments on choosing his cast and also on the insanity of directing and acting at the same time. He comments on the importance of Louise and John's relationship in the film and along with Jack Nicholson reminisce about their co-stars.

- The third part is entitled "Testimonials" and runs for 11 minutes 57 seconds and the filmmakers talk about the use of the testimonials in the film as a narrative tool. They talk about finding the people who knew Louise and John, how Beatty got them into comfortable dialogue that would supply the needed exposition for the film and Beatty also recalls the personalities and enjoyment in working with each of the people interviewed.

- The fourth part is titled "The March" and runs for 9 minutes 7 seconds and takes a look at the intense amount of location work that went into making this film, as Beatty recalls they shot in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle, Santa Fe, Taos, Washington D.C., London, Manchester, Leeds, the South Coast of England, Stockholm, Helsinki, Rovaniemi, Lapland, Madrid, Seville, Granada and Guadix among other places. They comment on the difficulty in location shooting and using certain landmark that would indicate to the viewer what city the characters were in, this part also looks at other aspects of the production briefly such as the costumes and photography and the recruitment of Vittorio Storaro.

- The fifth part is "Revolution Part 1" which runs for 10 minutes 18 seconds, This clip takes a look at the art versus politics aspect of the film as well as the fact that the film went over budget and schedule which shed immense light onto the production. We also explore the complexity of the themes and the approach Beatty used. It's interesting to discover that Beatty and Storaro would argue about camera movement, Beatty refused it and had to be convinced to use minor movement that felt naturalistic. We also get a look at the shooting of the Russian Revolution scenes and working with massive amounts of extras and cutting sequences to music.

- The sixth part of this documentary is entitled "Revolution Part 2" and runs for 6 minutes 54 seconds, this clip covers the scope of the production and dealing with such a big production as it looks at the shooting of several key scenes that includes trains, horses and action. Are are given insight into the train explosion scene, Louise and John's reunion in Russia as well as the end sequence in the film.

- The seventh and final part is entitled "Propaganda" which runs for 9 minutes 13 seconds and looks at how the film took a year to shoot, 2 million feet of film was exposed and how Beatty used a video editing system to cut the film which made it easier. We are given a glimpse into the score and the importance of how the music should not dictate emotion as well as the studio response to the film, it's release and Oscar wins.
Overall I was quite impressed with this documentary as it seems to cover a great deal and makes for interesting viewing, considering we're likely to never get an audio commentary from Beatty having agreed to take part in these supplements at all is more than enough to satisfy cinefiles.

Packaging

This 2-disc set is packaged in an amaray case housed in a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

The Film: B- Video: A- Audio: B- Extras: B+ Overall: A-

 


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