Speaking of Rebecca West

That’s her on the right, one of the witnesses in Reds. I think my favorite part is when she says to her friend, “You know who didn’t know a thing about Socialism? Beatrice Webb.” (Pulls her shawl around her imperiously, and repeats:) “She didn’t know a thing.”

As someone who holds Beatrice and her husband Sidney in almost worse than contempt, that moment always gives me a little thrill.

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13 Responses to Speaking of Rebecca West

  1. Kent says:

    The witnesses were the best part of “Reds”. Beatty as Studs Terkel creating a living archive in motion. Prevailing is one of the great joys of a long life, so I’ve been told by those who have lived one. Reporting too. Glad to read in your other posts that you are prevailing over the recent challenges of natural disaster. May you prevail and report for a long long time!

    • sheila says:

      Totally a living archive.

      I loved hearing on the special features DeDe Allen and Vittorio Storraro (sorry about my spelling) talk about the witnesses. They filmed them against the black so that they could easily project scenes behind them, to illustrate what they were talking about. But the black background and the lit faces ended up being so beautiful in and of themselves that they scrapped that narrative device which I think was brilliant.

      The witnesses MAKE the film, as far as I am concerned – as much as I love Beatty and Keaton’s work (and everyone’s work), and Dick Sylbert’s work, etc. It is the witnesses that turn it into epic, that make the commentary about memory and time that Beatty was trying to get at.

      And yes: I have made it thru! Unfortunately we have a big storm coming again tomorrow – nor’easters are not to be trifled … but whatever, I have been thru it all a million times. I am just so saddened for the people who are currently homeless – and who have to now face yet another storm. The disorientation on the East Coast is massive.

      I haven’t had mail in a week … your package will come thru eventually, dear Kent!

      • Kent says:

        Reds is particularly moving now that so many of the participants have left us. When it came out it seemed to me to be both ahead of and behind the times… very unusual. All these years later, after such a hard and historic national swing to the right, it has the patina of a rare work of art.

        No worries on the mail. USPS will prevail too. Just glad to know you are okay and to see that your spirit still jumps off these pages as strong as ever!

        • Kent says:

          P.S. Sheila, of course realizing that you have many far more pressing concerns than a small package, thought I would share that USPS finally informed me in email today that your loot will be delivered on November 1st. They also noted that it reached Jersey City on November 4th. Just a small Sandy chronicle…

  2. Dan says:

    I just recently saw Reds for the first time. I had no idea the witness sections were in the film but I loved them. Only wished I was better able to identify them.

    • sheila says:

      They made a conscious decision to not identify the witnesses because they didn’t want to couch the events in question with “here is what famous people had to say about what happened.”

      I love the witness sections too!

  3. Tell us more about the Webbs. Besides apologizing for Uncle Joe, what did they do? You’re the most well-read blogger I read, so I’m counting on you.

    • sheila says:

      haha Jincy – Uncle Joe!!

      Well, apologizing for Uncle Joe is the main reason I hold them in contempt. They engaged in deliberate deceit and whitewashing of reality because they were determined that the Utopia they believed in should continue – even if it was all tailspinning into terror and genocide: they didn’t care. They deliberately lied about the famine in the Ukraine – they were the main architects of lying to the West about what was going on there. They weren’t just “useful idiots” like the various celebs who went there to meet Uncle Joe, and were so impressed with his crinkly smile and warmth and manliness (Ew!!!) – they were co-conspirators in selling the dream to the West. They have pretty much been totally discredited – but I still love how pissed off Dame Rebecca still was!! “Beatrice Webb didn’t know a thing,” she sniffed, 50 years after the fact.

  4. So…how do you feel about Lillian Hellman? I’ve always found her repellent, on a slew of levels, only one of which is Webblike. Do a Hellman post! (or did you do one and I missed it…) For instance, what do you think of her plays?

  5. sheila says:

    I may be a bit of a charlatan in this, so forgive me: but I am more likely to forgive artists who fell for Uncle Joe (there were so many of them – speaking of Rebecca West, her lover HG Wells just fell fawningly at Joe’s feet) – than people who set themselves up as mouthpieces of the USSR, and basically acted as press agents for the lies put out by the Politburo (ie: the Webbs, and that dude who won the Pulitzer for his work in the NY Times – Durranty was his name?)

    So I separate out people like the Webbs, who acted consciously to prop up that murderous regime – from artists who may hold views that disagree with, but who certainly didn’t devote their lives to whitewashing genocide/famine.

    I haven’t read all of Hellman’s work – and worked on The Children’s Hour in many an acting class – and am familiar with her political beliefs, but maybe I need to do some more research. You tell me: why do you find her repellent? I would love to hear!

    • Her self-aggrandizement (in, for instance, the piece on which Julia (the movie–Redgrave fabulous as always) was based) was breathtaking. She got into a slapfight with Mary McCarthy and lost. (Boy, those were the days, weren’t they? You could turn on the TV and watch Cavett and Mary McCarthy…) She was a legend in her own mind and bullied people who should have known better into perpetuating it. Also she basically ate Dashiell Hammett. Otherwise, she was swell. What I don’t know, really, is how good her plays are.* They’re melodrama but they have a critical rep of being really good melodrama, and I was wondering about that. I do get your point about the diff between artists and self-appointed meddlers in history. I cut the artists some slack too. But Hellman, it seemed to me, was more Self than artist, if you know what I mean–she was her own finest creation, again in her own mind–more Personality than Playwright.

      *Of course what I don’t know could fill a million libraries.

      • sheila says:

        // Also she basically ate Dashiell Hammett. Otherwise, she was swell. //

        hahahaha You know, it’s been years since I’ve read her stuff – it has dated quite badly. Her plays do not survive out of the time in which she wrote them, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but she always struck me as more of a propagandist than an artist. Arthur Miller tiptoes into that territory at times, too. I love much of his stuff – but when you compare it to Tennessee Williams or O’Neill – I think his work suffers. It is very muc h a part of the Left at that time, those were his concerns – and of course he wasn’t alone in that. Look at Clifford Odets. But I think Clifford Odets was a better writer than Miller. His stuff is also dated, you can’t remove them from the 1930s – but the prose!!! Yes, it’s also propaganda – but I just don’t mind as much if you write well.

        You’re making me think I need to look into Lillian Hellman a bit more. I love Mary McCarthy. I want to know what was going on. I’ll re-read some of her plays, I think I have it in a collection somewhere.

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