Popular Hollywood conservative Ronald Reagan was elected as president of the United States in November of 1980, and Warren Beatty’s big-budget epic of the Russian Revolution, which offers a sympathetic face for communist idealism in the form of the director-star’s American journalist John Reed, was released only a year later. That such an entertainment emerged amidst widespread anti-Soviet Union sentiment in America is a near-radical feat; that it’s proudly old-fashioned in style and structure only augments the unique place it holds within its era. Swerving between a handsomely mounted romantic saga of John Reed and his progressive-minded girlfriend Louise Bryant and a talking-head documentary showcasing actual participants in 1917’s upheavals, Reds offers a heady Wellesian mix of real testimony and fiction, with the Hollywood recreation dramatizing the words of the witnesses and the witnesses complicating the Hollywood recreation. Photographed by Vittorio Storaro in rich shades of sepia and amber and lent an overwhelming sweep by Stephen Sondheim’s score, the film is a commanding act of resistance against the political tide of its time.
The exhibit The Russian Revolution: Actors and Witnesses in Harvard Library Collections will be open for a special viewing on Monday, October 23 from 5:45 to 6:45 in Houghton Library.