Category Archives: Hollywood

Hidden Figures

Picking up where The Imitation Game left off, Hidden Figures arrives to crank the Hollywood virtue signalling dial to 11. Instead of a gay, British computing genius who helps the government, we get three black female math geniuses who help the government. Or to use #WOKE parlance, “womxn of color”. By most media accounts, Hidden Figures is a factually accurate account of the lives of three of NASA’s Human Computers: Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe). Even if it boasts historical accuracy, the screen adaptation reeks of social justice grandstanding and narrative building. 

On the one hand, it’s great that this story is being told and the world can appreciate the critical contributions these women made to the American success in the Space Race. On the other, it is intensely irritating to watch a film whose political agenda bludgeons you over the head with every scene. This is a film that desperately wants you to walk out of the theater determined to dismantle “white supremacy” and “smash the patriarchy”. This is a film that seems blatantly calculated reinforce the omnipresent feminist narrative that women are socialized to be excluded from math and science. This is a film whose every line of dialogue seems customized for HuffPo headlines and #WOKE Twitter. And of course, this is yet another film which portrays women as paragons of pure poise, unshakable composure, boundless intelligence, unassailable virtue, and competence in every facet of life. 

The film kicks off the #RACISM narrative right off the bat. Our three heroines are stranded on a rural road as Dorothy Vaughan repairs their stalled automobile. A police officer pulls up to inquire about their condition, and naturally, he’s a belligerent, racist oaf who treats them with suspicion and contempt. Setting up a behavioral pattern that will define virtually every interracial interaction for the remainder of the film, the police officer is disarmed and bewildered to discover that they’re NASA employees. And like mathematicians and engineers and shit! Check your privilege, RACIST!

The rest of the film seems designed to set up variations on this scene.  In other words, three #STRONG, #INTELLIGENT Womyn of Color suffer one racist indignity after another, but eventually get to show the dumb white supremacists what they’re made of. Dorothy Vaughan is passed over for a promotion despite doing the work of a supervisor in the West Campus computing pool. Mary Jackson is denied an opportunity to advance as an engineer because she can’t take continuing education classes at the segregated school. Katherine Johnson is treated like shit even after she’s assigned to the elite corps of mathematicians working on getting a manned spacecraft in orbit. 

Hidden Figures wants you to believe that it’s “smashing stereotypes with its fearless portrait of WOC”, but it only can do that by building new stereotypes and straw men of its own. With the exception of Kevin Costner’s Al Harrison and Mahershala Ali’s Jim Johnson, all of male characters are racist dolts, faceless functionaries or power hungry bureaucrats. Even John Glenn can’t catch a break from the ever vigilant feminists at Bustle who bust him for calling Johnson a “girl”. Kirsten Dunst fares no better as the utterly unsympathetic West Campus supervisor, Vivian Mitchell.  She has the thankless role of being the token white, female racist who has to repeatedly deny advancement to the heroines due to budget cuts or obscure rules. BUT WE REALLY KNOW WHY SHE’S SHUTTING THEM DOWN, DON’T WE? 

The bulk of the film centers around Taraji P. Henson’s Katherine Johnson and her ascent through the ranks of the mathematics team responsible for the Friendship 7 mission. Upon her arrival, the film sets up the predictable racial tension as she is greeted by a roomful of silent white, male stares. It doesn’t take much to anticipate the trajectory the film takes, and there’s barely a surprise throughout its length. With the predictability of the mathematical equations Johnson calculates, you can anticipate every single dramatic cadence. As Paul Stafford, Jim Parsons is yet another two dimensional cardboard cutout who’s only job in the film is to bark instructions, enforce bureaucratic protocols, and marvel at Johnson’s genius when she shows him up. Costner is mildly sympathetic as the gruff department head who places his trust in Johnson’s ability. Naturally, he also gets to be the White Knight who makes the “smash white supremacy” meme literal by destroying the segregated restroom sign with a crowbar. 

There are numerous points which require varying degrees of suspension of disbelief, but one of the biggest is Johnson’s relationship with her three daughters. Johnson is a widow for the first half of the film, and the only caregiver is her mother. Her daughters are extraordinarily well behaved, happy and show no signs of discontent being separated from their mother most of the time. Johnson’s male counterparts have to phone home to their wives with the bad news that the Soviet launch of Sputnik will require that NASA redouble their efforts, but the one person who’s consistenty burning the overtime candle is Johnson. SEE SEXISTS? ALL THAT NONSENSE ABOUT MEN WORKING LONGER HOURS THAN WOMEN IS HATE FILLED PROPAGANDA! WOMEN CAN SHOULDER EVERY BURDEN WITHOUT A MAN AND THERE ARE NO CONSEQUENCES. 

To the film’s credit, they emphasize the central role that religious life played for the black community during that time. Social graces, manners, respect for elders and being well dressed are values which are consistently upheld in religious circles. The events of the film predate the Great Society and the destruction of the black family it wrought. Henson’s character is courted by Ali’s Jim Johnson, so the film is actually willing to portray marriage as a positive virtue. 

I doubt there’s much discussion of it in #WOKE media, but the film touches a third rail of racial politics: the correlation between race and IQ. Charles Murray continues to be raked over the coals for The Bell Curve, but the film is portraying a phenomenon that is, in fact, pretty rare. You’ll find plenty of hand wringing in progressive publications and government websites over the shortage of African-Americans graduating with STEM degrees. The film clearly wants you to point the finger at the reliable boogeyman of #SYSTEMIC #RACISM, but the hard truth is that very few African-Americans are pursuing STEM degrees. The Hollywood and academic elite undoubtedly believe that putting forward nothing but positive stereotypes will bolster self-esteem in the black community. It may make for a great circle jerk of self congratulations, but reduces filmmaking to SJW propaganda. 

Sadly, the film is also a pretty obvious bit of government propaganda. Don’t get me wrong. I remain enthralled by the possibility of spaceflight, but one simply cannot underestimate the symbolism that NASA, and by extension, this film represents. Spaceflight is largely viewed as the last remaining frontier of human achievement which can only be realized through the infinite benevolence of the State.  The government wants to preserve a monopoly on this realm of endeavor because it needs to preserve some area of aspirational idealism in order to keep people distracted from all of the horrible shit it’s doing. If people continue to hold the belief that the government can be used to confer an endless array of Public Goods, then no one is happier than the politicians. 

One of the biggest ironies of the film is the disconnect that presently exists between the contemporary radical wing of racial justice activism and the film’s open celebration of the MLK Civil Rights legacy. While the film lionizes the breakdown of Jim Crow laws, the collegiate safe space crowd openly EXTOLS racial segregation as next level #SocialJustice. 

I wanted to like Hidden Figures, but Hollywood seems pretty intent on prioritizing political virtue signalling over making good drama lately. Everything about the film is expertly crafted, but it sinks under the weight of the agenda it’s carrying. Fences appears to be a film portraying the life the ordinary black father, but what are the chances Hollywood is going to make a version of this movie for hidden black men? I know which side of that bet I’m on.  

La La Land

It’s not going to replace The Sound of Music in the pantheon of greatest musicals, but it’s a nice throwback to Old Hollywood with a modern sensibility.

La La Land is the kind of film that you thought was consigned to the scrap heap of Hollywood history.  In other words, it’s a boy-meets-girl love story with song and dance performed by two charismatic and attractive leads.  It’s colorful. It’s fun. It’s a film with a smile on its face that wants to entertain you. Ryan Gosling is the idealistic jazz musician, Sebastian, and Emma Stone is aspiring actress, Mia. Even with its bittersweet ending, the film is refreshing because of its unabashed old fashioned approach.

Besides the love story, La La Land deals with the question of what it means to be an artist and being true to your principles by finding your own voice. Sebastian is the quintessential jazz purist who wants to rescue jazz from cultural oblivion. He dreams of opening a club that features Honest Jazz, but bides his time playing lounges and 80’s cover bands. Mia is just another actress hunting for scraps in the Hollywood meat grinder until Sebastian encourages her to tell her own stories by developing her long abandoned writing.

More specifically, the film addresses the ideological divide in jazz between innovation and tradition, and which takes priority when it comes to attracting audiences. Is jazz a fixed tradition with specific, definable parameters or is it a blank slate which must incorporate modern technology and borrow from other idioms in order to innovate and attract audiences? In Sebastian’s case, his version of artistic radicalism was to return to jazz tradition despite being given an opportunity to play in John Legend’s globetrotting pop/R&B act.

In one scene, the film does an excellent job showing the chasm of misperception between the jazz aficionado and the casual consumer. Mia tries to explain that she finds Kenny G perfectly enjoyable and her parents would put on a smooth jazz station as background music. Instead of being an elitist snob, Sebastian draws her attention to the musical action happening on the combo performing in front of them.  The film clearly wants us to see the beauty in jazz that Sebastian sees and show what makes jazz such a dynamic and rich art form.

Where La La Land really shines is in the romance between Sebastian and Mia. How long has it been since Hollywood unironically presented the pursuit of love and companionship between a man and a woman as a virtue? Hollywood has been so far up its own ideological ass for so many years trying to fulfill every politically correct agenda that a scene with Sebastian and Mia holding hands in a theater while watching Rebel Without a Cause feels pretty radical. 

It’s multicultural, but it is blessedly free of hamfisted racial or identity politics. Sebastian’s sister marries a black man, but they didn’t insert some tortured narrative about racism. The jazz club scenes contained multiracial audiences and showed people getting along and having a great time enjoying an art form that has succeeded in building cultural bridges.  Since Hollywood seems so solidly intent on propping up politically divisive narratives by constantly emphasizing America’s sordid history in films like Race and Birth of a Nation, the absence of these tiresome themes in La La Land is noticeable and welcome.

The film is not just a candy coated sugar high though. The tradeoffs, compromises, self doubt and financial insecurities which come with the territory of being an artist create the emotional and dramatic tension between the characters. Artistic idealism is an admirable virtue, and one which resonates with me, but Damien Chazelle is correct to point out that absent clear communication, the pursuit of a stable family life and the artistic dream can easily become irreconcilable goals.  It’s great to see that the pursuit of artistic individualism is upheld as a heroic virtue, but it’s worth remembering that it is not an ironclad promise of financial remuneration or commercial recognition.

Needless to say, the SJW media factions and progressive Twitterati have predictably heaped condemnation on La La Land for the very reasons that it’s good.  Hopefully, studios will pay more attention to the positive acclaim and box office receipts, think twice about pushing ideological agendas, and remember that people enjoy being entertained and watching attractive people fall in love on screen.

Hollywood Proselytizes for the Cult of Obama to the Bitter End

​If Meryl Streep’s steaming pile of smug and the generally ignominious and partisan tone of the Golden Globes weren’t a sufficient reminder that Hollywood is a de facto propaganda arm for the Democrats and all things Obama, I present this towering feat of kiss ass.

This creepy, outrageously obsequious and idolatrous ode to the Obama Cult of Personality comes courtesy of celebrity sycophants, and a Diverse© pool of Marginalized P*rsxns engaged in a breathless and vacuous recitation of talking points and virtue signalling that would make Kim Jong Il jealous. Obama is obviously concerned about the demolition of his legacy so the self-congratulatory vibe is cranked to 11.

In the Soviet Union, artists were required to glorify the State.  In America, it’s a way to telegraph that you’re a Good P*rsxn and totally #WOKE while indulging a fantasy that you’re being edgy and contrarian despite being in a bubble of near perfect ideological conformity.

Positively loathsome. 

Trumbo

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To say that Hollywood is inhabited by narcissistic egomaniacs is perhaps an understatement and self-evident. However, that’s not to say that the Hollywood creative class is without talent, skill or deeply held ideological convictions. If nothing else, Hollywood films are very good at promoting Hollywood’s own brand of self-righteous mythology. Specifically, that Tinseltown is inhabited by collection of pious crusaders who are On the Right Side of History.  Trumbo is unequivocally one of these films. 

Trumbo is a biopic which dramatizes the life of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. It also touches on issues of free speech, free markets, the anti-Communist witch hunts of the 50’s and the Hollywood Blacklist. This film is roughly analogous to Reds in that it dramatizes a figure of the American Left who had Communist sympathies and was persecuted for his convictions. It is far inferior because in contrast to Redsit utterly fails to pinpoint the failure of Marxist ideology. Nor does it acknowledge the reversal of roles that has taken place between the Right and the Left in contemporary society. In the latter respect, Trumbo is dismal bit of partisan hackery. It seeks only to reinforce the mythology of the American Right as corrupt, vacuous authoritarians who are Wrong About Everything. Conversely, it portrays the Left as the principled, virtuous rebels On the Right Side of History whose voices and spotless moral rectitude are under perpetual assault by dirty ReTHUGliKKKans. It’s refreshing to get a Hollywood film that wears its political stripes on its sleeve, but the solid philosophical points it makes are completely undermined by its partisanship.

Trumbo starts off on very shaky ground and only devolves. We’re presented with an extravagant poolside party with Bryan Cranston’s Trumbo arguing passionately in favor of the beleaguered proles whose labor creates so much surplus value for the greedy Hollywood capitalists. The soulless and indifferent Hollywood executive with whom he was arguing haughtily dismisses him as a Dirty Red and walks away leaving a cloud of contempt in his wake. This incident portends the ostracism to come. Principled, Compassionate Leftist is just trying to speak his mind and stick up for the Little Guy and he’s just shut down by an Evil, Heartless Conservative. Poor Comrade Trumbo. 

In a subsequent scene on the plush ranch he purchased from the earnings he made from the dirty capitalist system, Trumbo is taking his daughter Niki on a horseback ride. Niki nervously asks him if he’s a Communist to which he answers clearly and unequivocally, “Yes.” She asks him if she’s also a Communist. Instead of educating his child with history, economics, and sound reasoning, he lays out a half-baked, simplistic analogy which offers no sound foundation upon which to make an informed choice. Rather than expounding on why he was sympathetic to Marxist politics, he likens Communism as being exactly equivalent to sharing a sandwich with a student at school. This is the level of vile sophistry to which Hollywood has descended. Socialism is just charity and caring for your fellow man, proles. That’s all. Utterly contemptible and loathsome.

Anti-communist sentiment was on the rise, and Trumbo and his screenwriter colleagues banded together to oppose the ascendant persecution. Ironically, they proclaimed the freedom to assert their political convictions on First Amendment grounds. In another gathering of Hollywood elites, David James Elliott brilliantly channels John Wayne’s cartoonish patriotism and his anti-Communist bloviations. The roomful of executives and actors express their agreement with cheers, applause and laughter at every proclamation. Once again, we see the Dirty, Evil Conservatives in the thrall of patriotic groupthink and the Fearless, Intrepid Leftists who just want to assert basic American Constitutional principles. The gathering ends with a confrontation between Trumbo and Wayne in which Wayne is taken down a peg when Trumbo reminds him that his patriotism was only tested in the comfort of a Hollywood studio. Not in the trenches of the battlefront. As failed actress, gossip columnist, and all around contemptible bitch, Hedda Hopper, Helen Mirren giddily informs Trumbo that he will be ruined in the court of public opinion by her column.  The film’s attempt to attribute Hopper’s media Star Chamber to conservative/anti-communist ideology is yet another example of the film’s sheer dishonesty about the contemporary Left.  

Despite making waves for his political sensibilities, Trumbo lands a lucrative contract with MGM. As he’s about to sign on the dotted line, Louis Mayer holds up Hopper’s column and warns him not to make these kinds of headlines. He signs and simply advises him not to read the papers. His career lift is soon cut short as he’s served a subpoena to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He is subject to an interrogation that most have come to associate with the term McCarthyism. He refuses to answer questions on the grounds that he’s not being charged with an actual crime. Trumbo is ultimately charged with contempt of Congress, and sentenced to time in the federal penitentiary along with nine others. The infamous Hollywood Ten are born. Once again, the film is placing all of the toxicity on one side of the political equation.

Hopper exerts her influence even further in a private meeting with Mayer. She pressures him into refusing employment to those on the Blacklist by threatening to tar him in her column and manipulating him with appeals to patriotism. Mayer tries to push back, but caves in when he realizes he’s cornered. She plunges the knife in further with a few choice anti-Semitic digs at him and other Jewish studio heads. Here, we see the filmmakers peddling the mythology of racism, Nazism, authoritarianism and fascism being the sole province of the Political Right. Never mind the Nazi’s application of Keynesian economic policy in the run up to World War II which mirrored FDR’s applications. Never mind FDR’s internment of the Japanese. The filmmakers clearly want the viewer to associate Nazism and fascism with the Political Right.

While in prison, he befriends a gruff and surly inmate, Virgil Brooks, who is in charge of prison supplies and happens to be black. Naturally, since Trumbo is a Leftist and Friend of the Dispossessed and Unjustly Persecuted, he is able to ingratiate himself to him sufficiently in order to obtain work typing up requisitions. Brooks offers him the gig, but reminds him that he will “fuck him” if he violates his trust at any point. During his period of incarceration, a former Trumbo actor colleague, Edward G. Robinson, is called to HUAC to testify. The inmates are able to watch the hearing on the communal television. Robinson confesses to being a liberal Democrat, but outs his own former colleagues as Communists just to avoid the ostracism that Trumbo and the remaining Hollywood Ten received. After the testimony, Brooks says that if anyone in prison snitched like that, they’d be killed. That’s right, proles. Truly ethical behavior and real human virtue can be found in the prison population of America. The American criminal justice system is surely guilty of being overzealous in prosecuting an ever expanding sphere of illegality, but this persistent effort to invert reality and attribute virtue to all things Leftist is positively odious. This phenomenon is due in no small part to activism from both the black community and liberals alike. You’re more likely to hear idiotic lectures about white privilege than you are admissions of their respective roles legislating these outcomes.

In another bit of blatant partisanship, Trumbo encounters fellow inmate and former HUAC committee member and interrogator, J. Parnell Thomas. Thomas was sentenced for corruption charges, and Trumbo takes a shot at him by reminding him that he’s the only real criminal between the two of them. Apparently, only conservatives are corrupt and abuse political power.

After serving his year long sentence, Trumbo returns to his family and attempts to revive his flagging career prospects. He’s forced to sell his plush ranch and the Trumbo family take up residence in the Los Angeles suburbs. His neighbors are aware of him and the persecution continues with threatening anonymous notes and vandalistic messages on their property. Desperate for work, Trumbo makes a deal with B-movie kingpin, Frank King and agrees to write scripts under a pseudonym. During this time, he secures work for his blacklisted colleagues and enters into a period of relentless output and perpetual solitude. In a family meeting in which Trumbo conscripts his family into his semi-clandestine script writing factory, Niki wonders how she will fit in time for her studies and her Civil Rights activism. Got that, proles? Leftists are smart, studious, industrious and of course, care deeply about Social Justice. Trumbo’s star is also quietly rising as he wins Oscars for penning Roman Holiday and The Brave One, but cannot claim credit due to his blacklist status. His relationship with his family is increasingly strained as a result of his punishing work schedule, and things come to head during Niki’s sixteenth birthday. She cannot believe that her own father cannot spare even a minute to share a piece of birthday cake on this momentous occasion. She storms off in a fit of frustration. Trumbo seeks her out in order to attempt a reconciliation and finds her fighting #PATRIARCHY and #RACISM at the racially integrated café. For once, the Hollywood film portrays the father as a positive influence on his daughter. Apparently, even Leftists have to affirm family values and the virtues of fatherhood every now and then.

Trumbo’s fortunes finally turn when Kirk Douglas asks him to work on the script for Spartacus. Douglas is able to win Trumbo over by telling him that Spartacus is the story of a man who stood his ground when the world was against him. Trumbo’s script catches the attention of filmmaker Otto Preminger and he’s offered another big opportunity to write the script for Exodus. Hopper’s defamation campaign is relentless and she attempts to manipulate and threaten Douglas for employing Trumbo, but ultimately caves in to Douglas’ resolve. “When did you become such a bastard?” asks Hopper. “I’ve always been a bastard,” retorts Douglas. What appears to be Spartacus’ Randian message of individualism against the tyranny of the collective is transformed into the facile collectivism of #JeSuisCharlie. The reign of repression is finally broken when Preminger goes to the press with an open admission that Trumbo is the writer of Exodus.

Trumbo is canonized with an award in the final scene, and here, the film commits its final atrocity of intellectual dishonesty and smug, self-congratulatory partisanship. In a speech, Trumbo asserts a hypocritical and contemptible moral relativism by claiming that there were “no heroes and no villains” during the anti-Communist purges. After two hours of demagoguery and demonization of the Political Right, the filmmakers just want you to believe that this was just a non-partisan slice of history without an agenda from which you can draw your own conclusions. It’s not as though the politicization of Hollywood began under FDR and has continued to push government propaganda ever since then. It’s not as though leftists have triumphed overwhelmingly in their legislative pursuits over the past century and those policies have contributed to any of the negative outcomes in America. It’s not as though leftists have overwhelmingly colonized academia and Hollywood and nearly all of the messaging reflects a solidly leftist ideological bent. It’s not as though leftist social justice activism has taken on the exact same characteristics as the McCarthyist witch hunts and people now lose their jobs and fortunes in the Star Chamber of social media. There are no failed leftist policies and there is no reckoning to be made with the historical connections to failed socialist states and contemporary leftist policy. Nope. It’s just those dirty conservatives and their nationalism, authoritarianism, racism, and dumb, selfish devotion to capitalism.

Trumbo is a an interesting story which touches on an earlier and highly politicized atmosphere in America from which important lessons can be drawn. Unfortunately, it’s just peddling the same lesson that Hollywood is almost always selling. As long as you’re a Leftist, you’re a Good Person. If not, you’re evil, racist and stupid and on the Wrong Side of History. Setting aside his socialist politics, Trumbo’s life stands as a testimony to the importance of free speech. It reminds us of the inextricable link between individual freedom and economic freedom that can only flourish under capitalism.  It serves as as a warning against the pernicious influence of politicians who exploit the power of the State in order to carry out political vendettas. Regardless of political affiliation, everyone can learn from these examples. It’s just too bad they’ve been papered over with the facile talking points of the Left.

Reds

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I admit it.  It’s not the Marxist lovefest I expected.  

I went into Warren Beatty’s 1981 opus expecting it to be another Hollywood love letter to socialism.  Instead, what I witnessed was a remarkably honest portrait of a doomed love affair between two seminal American communist radicals. Their ideals pitted them against one another and drove them apart despite their deep devotion to one another. 

Reds is a sweeping historical political drama which encompasses the roots of the American socialist Left, World War 1, and the Bolshevik Revolution.  The film is built around the tempestuous love affair between John Reed and Louise Bryant played by Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton respectively.  Its major achievement is how it manages to expose the limitations of Marxism by showing how the central characters’ allegedly revolutionary ideals undermined their ability to simply be with one another. 

As expected, the film spells out some of the facile appeal of socialism at the outset.  Beatty takes a very classical approach to filmmaking and the themes of the film are embedded in the characters. Louise Bryant is the aspiring writer and avowed feminist with libertine sexual mores who scandalizes Portland’s high society.  John Reed leaves jaws agape at the Liberal Society when he openly opines that the motivation behind the war is the capitalistic profit motive.  Louise is enthralled by Reed and asks him for an interview. They spend an evening together in which Reed bores the shit out of her regales her with his passionate desire to foment a socialist revolution.   Socialist feminist and Marxist revolutionary meet and the seeds of a deep love affair at a momentous time in history are sown. 

All of the touchstones of leftist bohemian ideals and political activism are present. The couple shared a permissive attitude towards sexual promiscuity and polyamory. Their disdain for capitalism, anti-war sentiment, artistic idealism, and initial refusal to submit to traditional bourgeois values are attitudes that would define the Left for decades. Most importantly, they shared a naïve hope in the promise of a worker’s revolution.  

Reed and Bryant eventually travel to Greenwich Village and we’re introduced to the seminal figures of America’s socialist Left including Emma Goldman and Max Eastman. The atmosphere is ripe with revolutionary spirit. Reed’s attempts to cover labor organizing efforts for his socialist magazine take him away from Bryant and drive an emotional wedge between them.  Meanwhile, Bryant tries to peddle her writing, but fails because her writing sucks. Bryant tries to assert her independence, but can’t confront how much she ultimately wants and needs Reed.  The couple resolve to remain together and set out to Provincetown, MA with Eugene O’Neill to live as artists in a quasi-communistic manner. 

Reed’s activism leads him away from the idyll of Provincetown, and on to the campaign trail to canvass for Woodrow Wilson.  Bryant has an affair with O’Neill, and Beatty draws out the conflict between monogamy and the bohemian spirit of free love.

Bryant and Reed separate again, but are reunited when Reed follows her to France. He asks her to join him on his journey to Petrograd to cover the imminent Bolshevik Revolution.  Though their love is rekindled in the fires of the Revolution, their activity is not viewed favorably by US federal authorities.  Reed is given a platform at a Bolshevik rally and stirs up the proles with some good old fashioned demagoguery.  It’s impeccably staged and plays like an Occupy Wall Street protest if it weren’t run by a bunch of pussies. 

They return to the US with a renewed hope in revolution, but with the Feds hot on their tail.  Adding to their travails is their renewed tensions with the American Socialist Party.  Reed is a member of the Industrial Workers of the World and tries to persuade them toward a Bolshevik spirit. His views are at odds with the leadership of the party. Reed breaks with the main party and forms his own more “pure” Socialist Party and is voted as the leader to seek the sanction of the Bolsheviks in Moscow. Here, the film turns a corner and starts to show how the revolution and Marxist dogma ultimately implodes and pits socialists against one another.  The bickering and tests of purity which the party members apply to one another translates perfectly to modern day purges carried out by social justice progressives today.  

After enduring imprisonment for improper paperwork, Reed travels back to Moscow is ultimately conscripted by the party elites to be a propagandist.  The consequences of his choice hit hard as he is denied return to the United States. He finds his appeals to the Party squashed by crushing authoritarianism. Reed is crushed to discover that he is unable to get a simple communication to his wife due to the palsied bureaucratization, incompetence and backwardness of life in Soviet Russia.

He is ultimately reunited with the recently deported Emma Goldman and he ponders his fate in her squalid apartment.  In a devastating monologue, Goldman tries to appeal to his sense of reason by pointing out the tragic failure of the revolution.  Instead of emancipating the proletariat, the Bolshevik regime has metastasized into a brutal and repressive police state. Not only is the dictatorship of the proletariat intolerant of dissent, it has driven the economy into deep contraction and dysfunction.  Blinded by his idealism, Reed brushes it off and says that you just can’t have a revolution without cracking a few skulls.  

Reed is sent on a fateful mission to Azerbaijan to bring the gospel of Bolshevist Socialism to the Muslims.  To his dismay, he discovers that his propaganda speech was mistranslated by Party kommissar, Zinoviev.  Drawing an excellent and accurate parallel between Marxism and Islam, Zinoviev replaced “class war” with “Holy war”.  Reed gets upset that his voice and intent was subordinated by the will of the Party and launches into a screed against the tyranny of the collective.  It’s good stuff. 

The train is sacked by counter-revolutionaries and a stunning battle scene involving cavalry, muskets and cannons ensues.  

Meanwhile, Bryant travels to Russia to try and find Reed.  They are ultimately reunited, but Reed contracts typhus and he spends his last days in a Soviet hospital.   

Despite the patina of revolutionary politics, Reds is a traditional romance which ultimately affirms monogamous bourgeois values.  Reed and Bryant were variously portrayed as marginal talents and busybodies who were trying to reconcile their artistic ambitions with their political sensibilities and libertine sexual desires. These values worked at cross purposes more often than not and each paid an emotional price.  

Reds is an impeccably produced film which tackles a lot of pithy material while succeeding at being a solid dramatic romance.  It reveals the roots of socialism’s enduring appeal while also showing where it went off the rails.  Socialist ideals still hold a lot of appeal with the Hollywood set, but Beatty deserves a little credit for tackling it head on and with a higher than expected level of intellectual honesty.