The Reel Less Traveled – February 2021

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The Long And The Short Of It

    The inspiration for this month’s column comes, not only from the month itself, but also from finally getting my copy of 
Lawrence of Arabia (Blu-Ray, of course) in the mail last week. It’s two discs, and I can’t wait to settle in and watch it.
But first, I need to lead with a bit of bad news.
    The International Film Showcase 
(www.internationalshowcase.org), that long running repository of film that brought the world to the Lamorinda area, finds they have no choice but to suspend their program until such time as the theaters they show in – Orinda Theatre, El Campanil Theatre in Antioch and the Jarvis Conservatory in Napa – reopen.
    Special commendations should go to Jo Alice Canterbury and Efi Lubliner for keeping the program going for as long as they have, and it’s important to keep in mind this is far from permanent. Indeed, such an assurance is prevalent on their website, along with a helpful 10 best list from each of them, recalling the fine films they have shown and those they believe deserve particular notice. Check it out and keep it at hand. If we’ve learned anything over the last few months, it is things can change at a moment’s notice, and I wouldn’t want you to miss out on anything.
    Okay, so this month, the shortest of the year, leads my non-conformist mind to think about movies that are anything but short.
    I’ve discussed some of these in past columns, but then, it was genre-specific. Generally speaking, there’s quite an impressive list of longer films: Gone With the Wind, Dr. Zhivago, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Barry Lyndon, the aforementioned, Lawrence of Arabia. That’s not even counting the really long movies like Greed by Erich Von Stroheim, where the original, which will never be seen, clocked-in at just over nine hours and Andy Warhol’s Empire, which ran just over eight.
    I mentioned genre-specific and, if you’ll recall, I gave epic comedies a decent write-up last month. So now, my same sense of iconoclasm, I’ll let you know about an epic very few people talk about, as relevant today as it was when it was released in 1981.
    I’m talking about Reds, staring Warren Beatty, who also directed the film, and Diane Keaton. On the surface, it’s the story of John Reed, an American journalist who found it no longer tenable to write just about history.
    Supplemented by people who actually knew Reed, the film has a documentary feel, only dispelled by how handsome this film looks. Real life never looks this good! Lensed by the famous Vittorio Storaro, a very color-coordinated aspect to this film emerges. Even the costumes look color-coordinated, but that just serves to make the overall film more pleasing to the eye.
    But the weight of history in the film gets conveyed before, during and after the main romantic story line.
    Using Reed’s and Louise Bryant’s relationship as a concurrent through line, the movie provides us a ringside seat to, not only their relationship (warts and all), but the history (in this case, the Bolshevik Revolution) unfolding all around them.
    Starting off with an introduction of Reed (“Profits,” a famous quote in the film), we follow his progress as a journalist and provocateur, and his initial meeting with Bryant. From there, it’s a roller coaster, with lots of fireworks, accompanied along the way by such notables of the time as Emma Goldman (Maureen Stapleton) and Eugene O’Neill (Jack Nicholson).
    Reds blends equal parts history lesson – a lesson, by the way, that’s all too prescient now – and romance so that this over-three-hour film flies by (and if you choose to take a time out for the intermission, you just might find yourself humming The Internationale). Even though the end is telegraphed to a degree, you’ll find yourself not wanting the film to end.
    All in all, it’s an uplifting vital experience, and one that gets all too little attention, especially nowadays. If you watch this film, along with the others mentioned above, that should pretty much take care of the whole of February – a recommended course of action, given this month’s reputation.
    So now, onto Lawrence. I’ll let you know how that worked out next month, but until then, keep veering towards those wonderful flickering images made of light, for that’s where the “reel” magic lies.

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