A couple of films

I watched As Good As It Gets .

I remember when it came out, in the late 90s, my avoiding going to see it, thinking it would be crap, just another Hollywoood formula film. After all, what Hollywood calls comedy is often a Frankenstein mish mash of cliches sewn together. pity me…

But anyway, i watched it and was very surprised. It had me laughing right from the get go, not that it’s all funny. The Jack Nicholson character is an unexpected portrait of a man with OCD. the situations set up are also unexpected, and perhaps becasue of the way they are handled they have a certain realsim that draws you in. I’m talking especially of the scenes in the restaurant where Nicholson goes for lunch every day. That’s where he meets and gets to know the Helen Hunt character. Not that we ever got to see the first meeting between them, the film starts in the middle of people’s lives, in the middle of ongoing sitauations. The dog needs a special mention, and if they ever give an oscar to a canine this one deserved it ! (apparently Rin Tin Tin did in fact win the first Oscar but the academy chickened out from giving it to the poor cur).

Helen Hunt was often talked about as a special actor with a gift for comedy. I never really gave ger a chance, perhaps because i’d seen her in Twister in ’96, and thought that movie a pile of shit ! but then i saw a recent horror film with her in it, I See You it’s called, and i loved it, and finally saw how good she can be. She is excellent in AGAIG. But i think ultimately it’s the script that makes that film as good as it gets.

But then, they say it’s always the script that makes or breaks a film.

I caught the film Reds on Talking Pictures channel. Never saw it before. The film has an unique surprise element, which places it somewhere near documentary drama genre: there are real people doing talking heads, throughout, and interspersed at intervals. These are elderly people – referred to as ‘witnesses’ in the credits – who were friends or knew the two protagonsists of the story back in the day: John Reid and Louise Bryant.

These latter two were real historical people who, though multi talented, focussed on journalistic writing. They ended up in Russia, in the years immediately following the revolution. Not only were they writing about the blossoming communist movement but became communists themselves. They believed fervently in free love, feminism, all that jazz.

Warren Beatty produced, directed, and co wrote this ‘epic’. Interestingly he co wrote it with british playwright Trevor Griffiths – he who wote the play Comedians – and on Google Griffiths is quoted as saying he probably wrote 45 % of the film. For some reason Griffiths left the project. And I felt, on watching Reds, that i could see the lines where one script writer took over from the other; the first half of the film is great, beautiful to look at, the pacing is elegant, and there’s humour and emotion oozing out of the lines and performance. nicholson pops here again, and is scary and striking as Eugene O’Neil – more about him later.

But somewhere in the second half something strange happens to the style of the film. It starts being more focussed on the Beatty character with Diane Keaton – who plays his wife Louise – becoming a spectator on the sidelines and in so doing her character loses the feminism and freedom, that spark that she has worked for throughout the film up til now. – yes that could have been the point that john Reid himself was becoming too big for his boots, but why portray this with long shots of Beatty doing speeches at rallies? I wanted to see more close up! I want less mindless shouting amidst crowds and more of the close up dialogue of the first half – But the film still held me, which is saying something for a three and a half hour movie. But the ways in which it held me changed and wavered…it seems to switch into a genre film for periods rather than retain the realism of the first half e.g at one point there is a bizarre scene with John Reid cooking in his small kitchen while Louise is talking to him through the door from the dining room: while their conversation meanders Reid messes everything up, with one food disaster after another flaring up, a fire on the hobs, smoke billowing from the over, one pan brimming over with hot oil, another pan burning so hot til it’s bottom drops out. Amazingly this scene is all shot in one take, with Beatty deftly handling all the pans amidst the flames and smoke. Yes there is still a reality to this, in that it could happen , but nevertheless one is reminded of Beatty’s whacky collaboration with Hal Ashby ,Shampoo, and in fact it’s a scene that would not be out of place in any screw ball comedy.

Uneven film Reds….brilliant at times, educational, poetic, dramatic, yet also bombastic and monotonous, with – especially towards the end – the characters repeating communist dogma back and forth to each other, but seemingly not learning anything from their words. It would be wrong to say it’s an intellectual film, but it contains a lot of intellectual ideas and dialogue, yet at the same time wanders into soap opera. Certainly the characters are sincere as hell, and their words reflect that; e.g there’s a scene where Louise has to face a commitee, is interrogated about her and her husband’s ‘seditious’ political opinons. In this scene Keaton is great as the lone woman, facing an all male world, who deflects her interlocutors with argument and rhetoric the like of which has not been seen since God talked to Moses….but then, wait, why talk so fast ? I mean, what she says ends up so quick and dense i’m lost as a viewer as to what her actual beliefs are.

Maybe Reds is an accurate dramatic portrait of how ten days shook the world, or as good a one as anyone has ever commited to film. It shows us that even then, in 1917, the US was paranoid when it came to socialism. And indeed all the world’s super powers were suspicious of the emergent USSR, trying their very best to kill it before it had a chance to grow. The film does attempt to stick to the historical facts…which utimately leads to the sad and poignant ending.

Why this paranoia? and how long can it go on for in a so called civilised, first world country? I mean, if you believe that what goes around comes around, eventual revolution in a country which has taken capitalism as far to the right as you can go is…..an inevitability ? Just let it happen