Warren Beatty says that when he showed "Reds," his four-hour epic about the Bolshevik revolution to President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan at the White House in 1981, the president had two comments.
"First he said, he was very admiring of what we’d done and how we’d made it," Beatty said at Wednesday night’s 25th anniversary showing of "Reds" at Lincoln Center. "And then he said he was kind of hoping for a happy ending."
The unhappy ending concerns the love story of journalists John "Jack" Reed and Louise Bryant, whose turbulent marriage is set against the downfall of Czarist Russia and the rise of Communism. Reed — played by Beatty — dies at the end of the movie.
Beatty said that Reagan — whom he’d known for years — was charming but probably not sympathetic to the characters in the movie. The Oscar winning actor-director also said he falls more in the camp of Ronald Reagan Jr., a liberal Democrat, and that "no one is prouder of him than his mother" — meaning Nancy Reagan.
Beatty also said that movie making was "a bit like vomiting. You dread it but you have do it."
"Reds" won four Oscars in the spring of 2002, but Beatty recalled that Charles Bludhorn, chairman of Gulf and Western, the company that owned Paramount Pictures at the time, urged him not to make it. "He said, 'Take $30 million. Go to Mexico, make a movie for a million dollars and keep the rest, just don’t make this movie.'"
Beatty made “Reds,” one of my all-time favorite movies, back in 1981. He won the Oscar for best director, and two of his supporting actors — the great Maureen Stapleton and an incredibly good Jack Nicholson — won, too. The fourth Oscar went to cinematographer Vittorio Storaro.
But Beatty never saw the movie with an audience, never did publicity and, until now, “Reds” has not been available on DVD.
Twenty-five years later, all that has changed. Paramount Home Video has released a special edition coming on Oct. 17 and last night, Beatty and wife Annette Bening were special guests at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall for a screening, Q&A and reception.
To say “Reds” went over like gangbusters is an understatement. After viewing the film — with a short intermission — the discerning audience gave Beatty not one but two standing ovations.
Ethan Hawke and actor pal Josh Hamilton were just two of the celebs who braved the pouring rain and sat through the show last night.
Beatty, who almost never does publicity for his films, was floored by the enthusiastic response — and it showed. What was it that surprised him at this screening?
“How much world events have changed to make the movie even more relevant,” he told me. “We were between wars in 1981 and, dare I say, maybe taking a victory lap after finishing Vietnam. Now, with this war on our minds, a movie about a revolution seems more relevant.”
Indeed, a couple of scenes in “Reds” really got the audience going. In one, a discussion of whether or not to vote for Woodrow Wilson, considering his broken promise to keep the U.S. out of World War I, was met with rueful laughter.
And later, when Beatty, playing journalist-turned-socialist Reed, makes a speech to Arabs, the language is changed to include the word “jihad.” This word didn’t mean much to Americans in 1981. It means everything now.
And all this, considering that “Reds” is set in the years 1905-1919, is what’s amazing. Beatty and writer Trevor Griffiths (with a cadre of uncredited helpers including Elaine May) really fashioned a masterpiece for the ages.
“Reds” is the love story of writer Reed, the author of “Ten Days That Shook the World,” and his wife, journalist Bryant (played byDiane Keaton, who was Oscar-nominated for her work).
Nicholson plays playwright Eugene O'Neill and Stapleton is socialist activist Emma Goldman. Gene Hackman has a big, memorable cameo, and there are numerous excellent subsidiary performances by Edward Herrmann, Paul Sorvino and the late real-life writers George Plimpton and Jerzy Kosinski.
There is also a shimmering production design by the late great Dick Sylbert that, coupled with Storaro’s work, makes “Reds” a visual feast. This will be a must-have DVD for anyone interested in great filmmaking.
For Beatty, this is a season of DVDs, by the way. “Bugsy,” his great mobster flick, is coming out Dec. 15.
For each of these discs, Beatty has sat down and done a DVD extra interview. But, like Steven Spielberg, he refuses to do scene-by-scene commentary (for even more Beatty insights, check out Holly Millea’s 8,000-word profile in the new issue of Premiere magazine).
I did not ask Warren about an old canard concerning “Reds.” That is that Woody Allen’s “Zelig,” a faux documentary, was meant as a parody of the Beatty epic.
Both films intersperse the action with interviews with historic figures. The main difference is that Beatty’s are real, and Allen’s, of course, are fake.
Beatty managed to round up a large selection of important people from Reed's and Bryant’s time including author Rebecca West (“I had a crush on her,” Beatty revealed last night), Adela Rogers St. Johns, Hamilton Fish, revered historian Will Durant and legendary vaudevillian George Jessel (who died six months before the film was released).
All of these people infuse “Reds” with a sense of humor that most of us who remembered the film well had forgotten.
Beatty himself has a brilliant cooking scene in the Reeds’ small kitchen that is part Chaplin, part Buster Keaton and maybe a pinch of Allen’s lobster scene from “Annie Hall.”
It’s not what most people think of when they think “Warren Beatty” — as demonstrated last night by a beautiful young woman who snuck into a picture with the actor and another woman.
“That’s OK,” she said. “We’ll just make a sandwich.”
Meanwhile, Beatty’s better half, Bening, was also on hand, and off-duty from rearing the couples’ four kids.
“I’m very much about ‘Did you finish this? Did you do this?’” she says of their schoolwork.
Somehow, though, she managed to make two films this year — “Mrs. Harris” for HBO and the forthcoming “Running with Scissors,” based on Augusten Burroughs' memoir. How did she like seeing “Reds” on the big screen last night?
“It’s my second time in a few days,” she admitted. “But I was swept right in. That performance by Diane Keaton is amazing!”
There’s more to come with Beatty, so stay tuned …
I told you last July that Madonna was giving millions of dollars to the Kabbalah Centre, an IRS-sanctioned religion founded by Karen and Philip Berg. The Kabbalah Centre is not part of Judaism; it is an independently organized religion.
Madonna’s largesse comes through her Ray of Light Foundation. She parks money there tax-free, then distributes it to other causes. Wednesday's announcement that she’s going to build an orphanage in the African country of Malawi is linked to the planned curriculum: Kabbalah.
Madonna, you see, is hooked on Kabbalah.
The newest tax filing for the Ray of Light Foundation shows she hasn’t given up on the Bergs yet. She gave their Spirituality for Kids branch $268,106 in 2005. Madonna donated another $184,250 to the Kabbalah Centre itself. And that’s what she’s reporting publicly and in the United States.
What’s interesting about Madonna’s donations to the Bergs is that they far exceed anything she gives for music or education. Her donation to the Grammy Foundation’s MusiCares program — $2,500 — is laughable by comparison.
The same goes for the sum she handed over for AIDS research in 2005 — $10,000 to AIDS Project Los Angeles and $15,000 to the T.J. Martell Foundation for Leukemia, Cancer and AIDS Research.
For all of her preaching about AIDS, Madonna lists nothing on her Ray of Light return for groups like amfAR, Elton John's AIDS Foundation or dozens of other organizations trying to stamp out the disease in Africa.
Only one charity besides Kabbalah — Habitat for Humanity at $100,000 — got a large amount of Madonna's money. The material girl — who is said to be adopting a Malawian baby to keep in step with Angelina Jolie — has her priorities.
John Lennon’s widow and ex-girlfriend are spending his birthday next week ... together, kinda. Both Yoko Ono and May Pang are going to be in Iceland on Oct. 9, I am told. Weird, huh?
Yoko will be there to break ground for a Peace Column, a clear column that will contain messages of peace from around the world. She will give out two peace grants of $50,000 each.
Coincidentally, Pang is part of an Icelandair Hippie Tour that alights in Reykjavik and sounds like a blast. Will they run into each other? Let’s hope so …
Tonight in Los Angeles the City of Hope honors RCA/J Records group head Charles Goldstuck, one of the good guys in the record industry. The place is the Pacific Design Center, and I hear Maroon 5 will be among the acts performing in honor of Goldstuck.
City of Hope, FYI, is a major cancer research institution with huge, momentous accomplishments in the field. You can read all about them at www.cityofhope.org ...
And condolences to Candice Bergen. Her famed and beloved mother, Frances, has died at age 84. Regal and elegant, Frances Bergen was part of a grand generation that is nearly all gone in Hollywood.
If you can find a copy of Candice’s great memoir “Knock on Wood,” swoop it up to read all about her mother and father, Edgar Bergen, and her “brother,” Charlie McCarthy …