With his 1981 political masterpiece finally available on DVD, Warren Beatty opens up to EW's Mark Harris about the epic, and what it means in 2006
Warren Beatty, absolutely nobody should be surprised to hear, likes to take his time. He first struck upon the idea of making a movie about the early-20th-century journalist/revolutionary John Reed shortly after he finished 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde. Fourteen years after that, his dream project Reds, the $32 million film he enjoys wryly referring to as ”a long, long movie about a Communist who died,” finally arrived on screen, led by a cast that included Beatty, his then girlfriend Diane Keaton, and Jack Nicholson. The film went on to gross $39 million; four of the 12 Academy Award nominations it received went to Beatty himself, as actor, writer, producer, and (the one he won) director.
It took only 25 more years for Beatty to decide he was ready to do press for the movie. The occasion — speaking of a long wait — was the film’s first-time-ever release on DVD (see review here), a medium about which the filmmaker admits ”negligence” until recently. Though Beatty still dislikes commentary tracks, or, as he calls them, ”that ridiculous thing where someone talks during the scenes,” he did participate in a DVD-only documentary about the film. The night before Reds showed to a lusty ovation at this year’s New York Film Festival — where it seemed both more politically relevant than ever and the last example of a kind of intelligent epic romantic-historical moviemaking that has all but vanished — Beatty, 69, talked to EW about his masterpiece, and whether there’s any room for it in the moviegoing world of 2006.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve said that audiences are now connecting to this movie and its politics much more passionately than in 1981. But at the same time, a studio would never make Reds now. So what’s gone wrong with the system?
WARREN BEATTY: The motion-picture business is convinced that to make a lot of money for its stockholders, the most lucrative approach is to make a movie that has a $50 million or $60 million marketing campaign and is in 3,000 theaters on opening night. Obviously, that requires content for people who want to be entertained, to escape. More power to that type of movie — except there are other movies that don’t fulfill those requisites, that, done well, would require big budgets. We have to look at the unintended consequences of those massive campaigns.
Reds, in other words, could never be an indie, which is what most good American movies are these days.
No. If you adjust for inflation, Reds would cost about $91 million. And it’s the last movie with an intermission — it could only play once a night, so immediately, your gross is halved.
It’s hard to imagine what a marketing meeting about Reds would have sounded like.
The people at Paramount were very supportive, but the fact is, there was no way to deal with it. And I didn’t really address myself to that element of it — I was so exhausted by the end of the movie that I thought, There’s nothing much I can do about this. The one thing I didn’t want to do was the conventional publicity binge. I felt I would take up an amount of attention that would hurt the movie.
Because of the immense amount of curiosity about your romantic life?