"Reds," Warren Beatty's enormous 1981 movie about American Communist icon John Reed and the left of a hundred years ago, has been re-released with some fanfare. Beatty says it is even more relevant now than it was when it came out at the beginning of the Reagan administration – when it was so harmless, Beatty says, that the Reagans themselves showed it in the White House. The current occupant is not likely to do the same.
Beatty says the film is about political opposition during wartime. And it is true that most of the action follows American communists and socialists attacking World War I as simply about profit. They are all excited about the Russian Revolution and the new burst of freedom in the Soviet Union.
But seriously – is a movie about communist revolution at all relevant now? I think the excitement in Los Angeles about the DVD release of this film tells us more about Hollywood's idea of politics than about real politics. What they are excited about is sheer activism, sheer opposition to the government. The actual communists in the film, though, cared more about the kind of society they were trying to create (very misguidedly) than in the drama of the revolution. Hollywood revolutionaries, on the other hand like the drama – and the difference between the kinds of wars that were being fought then and now, and the kind of society the opposition envisions – doesn't register as important.