since that worked so well…

Thanks to everybody who let me know about The Trouble with Angels. It seems like people in their thirties or older have a pretty good chance of knowing it, so I’ll keep the reference. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is out on DVD.

It seems like they bring out another dozen old movies on DVD every week, but if there’s rhyme or reason in the order, I can’t figure it out. I was pleased to find TwA on DVD, but there’s a whole list of other movies I own on VHS and would like to buy on DVD, if only they were available. Two that come to mind right away are Yanks (1979) and Reds (1981).

Yanks-filmYanks was directed by John Schlesinger and had a stellar cast — a young Richard Gere as one of the thousands of soldiers sent to England for training before the Normandy invasion — Vanessa Redgrave, William Devane, Rachel Roberts, Tony Melody. My parents-in-law, who were in their early teens during the war in England and who have very high standards when it comes to films that deal with this period, loved this movie for the details. I liked pretty much everything about it, but especially the love story. Unfortunately it’s still not out on DVD, and my VHS tape has seen better days.

coverReds is also a movie I like a lot — in fact there are some elements of it that I adore — but some elements don’t work for me at all. It’s a fictionalized account of the life of John Reed, who was a radical American journalist and early member of the Communist party. He’s best known for his non-fictional account of the Russian revolution (Ten Days that Shook the World is available on-line as a free etext through Project Gutenberg, here). This film adaptation of his story stars (and was directed by) Warren Beatty at the height of his box office appeal. The rest of the cast is pretty spectacular, with the exception of Diane Keaton as Louise Bryant. But in spite of her performance (which reminded me of Annie Hall; all her performances do) the rest of the cast really did keep the movie well above water. In addition to
Edward Herrmann as

Max Eastman;

Jerzy Kosinski as

Grigory Zinoviev;

Jack Nicholson as

Eugene O’Neill;

Paul Sorvino as

Louis Fraina;

Maureen Stapleton as

Emma Goldman, the first hour of the movie really struck me for the short interviews with the people who actually knew John Reed and Louise Bryant and who were active during the period in question, in journalism or politics. henry-miller

These interviews really make the movie, in my opinion. They include everybody from an irrascible older

Henry Miller (People fucked back then just as much as they do now. We just didn’t talk about it as much),

Dora Russell,

Scott Nearing,

Rebecca West,

Will Durant,

George Seldes,

Dorothy Frooks, to the comic genius

George Jessel.

The movie is beautifully filmed and edited, the scenes in Russia during the revolution most especially well done, and the ending (highly fictionalized) moving.

Reds-filmWhen this was shown in the theaters in 1981, it was with an intermission. (They used to do that with long movies. I remember intermissions for The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady, for example.) I saw Reds in Evanston, Illinois when it came out. When the lights came up at intermission time, one old lady sitting right in front of me turned to her companion and said, “You know dear, I don’t think they’re Republicans or Democrats.” I had to bite my lip to keep from bursting into laughter.

I really liked this movie for many reasons (not least the fact that it made me learn more about the history of the time and events in question) but again, it’s not available on DVD.

3 Replies to “since that worked so well…”

  1. Yanks is a great movie. Saw it on tv about 2 months ago for the first time in 10 years. It’s held up very well. Another actress who was early in her career then was Lisa Eichorn (girlfriend to Richard Gere’s character). She’s done several Law and Order episodes and it’s always a delight to see her. Reds is amazing and I haven’t seen it for years and was shocked to learn it’s not on DVD. I never saw it in the theatres, but it did come in two VHS tapes. Like yourself, I enjoyed the first part of the movie with the interviews. But my favourite part of the film is just before the intermission, when Diane Keaton’s character finally finds Warren Beatty’s character and the music swells and they hug. The music is amazing – very Russian and beautiful – and it’s a heartbreaking scene. As well, Edward Herrmann is one of my favourites actors – I started watching Gilmore Girls just for him. As for Diane Keaton – I agree – she tends to play variations of Annie Hall in most of her roles. And for many of those roles, it’s a good thing. Case in point – two of the funnier Allen/Keaton movies are Love and Death (definately a different slant on Russia than Reds) and Manhattan Murder Mystery. I brought them up as I saw them both over the weekend. And the variation on the Annie Hall thing worked for her as well in Something’s Gotta Give. Anyway, let’s hope Yanks and Reds will come out on DVD in the near future (and I learn not to run on and on in my email messages).

  2. My younger sister is named after Emma Goldman, so of course we bought a copy of Reds as soon as it came out on video and watched it often– along with Land and Freedom, which is another excellent movie about Stalinism’s betrayal of the revolution (it’s taken almost scene for scene from Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, one of my favorite books ever).

    Diane Keaton? poor woman. Completely overrated and not at all right for Red in my opinion.

    Anyway, I have almost exactly the same feeling about Reds that you do? the interviews and the supporting cast are the best part, though Beatty’s performance is solid and entertaining. One thing I like about it is how it tries to punch through the cultural amnesia brought on by McCarthy, to remind Americans that this country had a strong revolutionary socialist culture for decades, and that a lot of those people were still around when the movie was made.

    I remember about eight years ago, on a shopping trip to Powell’s Books in Portland, running excitedly up to the girl I was dating at the time and showing her the prize I’d dug out of the stacks? “Look!” I said, thrusting my new book at her. “I found a FIRST EDITION of Ten Days that Shook the World!” To which she responded, quite reasonably, “Okay. What’s that?” I knew then it was never going to work out between us (I still have the book, of course).

  3. wow. A first edition. Signed, by any chance?!?

    Cultural amnesia seems to be our national curse, and storytelling is the only even partially effective cure, and it’s always temporary.

    Lately when I think about these topics in history the first thing that comes to mind is Meryl Streep as Ethel Rosenberg in the HBO adapation of Angels in America. Which I admired tremendously.

    Another thing to get on DVD when it becomes available.

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