Shadows on the Past: Studies in the Historical Fiction Film

By Leger Grindon | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Politics and History in Contemporary
Hollywood: Reds

Montage thinking is inseparable from the general content of thinking as a whole. The structure that is reflected in the concept of Griffith montage is the structure of bourgeois society. . . . And this society, perceived only as a contrast between the haves and the haves-nots, is reflected in the consciousness of Griffith no deeper than the image of an intricate race between two parallel lines.

-- SERGEIEISENSTEIN, 1944

On December 7, 1981, less than a year after Ronald Reagan assumed office, the president hosted a gala Hollywood event. The lavish Paramount Pictures release, Reds, had a special screening at the White House a few days after its nationwide release. Warren Beatty, the director and star, his co-star, Diane Keaton, and thirty guests joined the president for an evening at the movies. Reagan's friends had no reason to fear that the controversial film about the early days of the American Communist Party would compromise the Republican president's convictions, but the gracious host and experienced promoter had only kind words for the movie. His major reservation was, "I was hoping for a happy ending."

The unlikely embrace of a film celebrating the Bolshevik Revolution by one of the most vigilant anti-Communists ever to occupy the White House was an appropriate note upon which to begin the theatrical release of Reds. For the motion picture was marked by a contrast similar to that "intricate race between two parallel lines" that Eisenstein saw in Griffith.1 Reds was a work whose contending elements were destined to remain at odds.

Like the president, the press gave Reds a warm reception. In addition to generally glowing notices, Reds elicited commentary from the wider intellectual community: Elizabeth Hardwick in

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