This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.
"Making a movie for me is very similar to vomiting," Warren Beatty told an audience at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood on Saturday night. "You don't like to vomit, but you know you may feel better if you do."
Beatty, 74, was attempting to explain the 13-year span since the last movie he directed, "Bulworth," to an audience at a screening of "Reds," the 1981 epic that won him a directing Oscar. In a jovial conversation with actor Alec Baldwin, co-host of TCM's "The Essentials," Beatty covered such divergent topics as sleeping with your leading lady, running for political office and preparing for a coming "revolution" in the movie business.
The star of "Bonnie & Clyde," "Shampoo" and "Bugsy" makes few public appearances these days, but he showed considerable self-awareness Saturday night at the Mann Chinese Theater 6 in Hollywood, joking about the "infinite narcissism" and "sluggish decision-making" that has contributed to his directing only three movies in the last 30 years. "I'm a delicate flower," Beatty said. "I don’t like it when people say things are not perfect."
In "Reds," Beatty played communist journalist John Reed, Diane Keaton was feminist writer Louise Bryant and Jack Nicholson appeared as playwright Eugene O'Neill. The unlikelihood of anyone making a film like "Reds" again — "a 3 1/2-hour movie about a communist who dies," as Beatty described it -- provided a springboard for a discussion about the future of the movie business.
The executives who greenlighted "Reds" at Paramount Pictures during the height of the Cold War, including then-studio head Barry Diller and Gulf + Western chief Charles Bludhorn, "are the people to admire in this, 'cause they said all right, let's make this," Beatty said.
Today, Beatty said, "you can't take the liberties we took. You can't take the risk of boring the audience. The rules about a captive audience don't apply."
"We're in the middle of a revolution about how and where to see movies," he added. Pointing to giant home screens and the tiny screen on the cellphone in his pocket, the filmmaker predicted "a coming war between exhibition and production."
"Ticket prices are going to have to be variable," Beatty said, noting that polling he did before the release of "Reds" indicated that the film's target audience of liberal intellectuals would have been willing to pay up to four times as much as the standard ticket price to see it.
Although the hot-button issue upon the release of "Reds" was its sympathetic portrait of a communist, now that the Cold War is over, Beatty said the film's more resonant theme is the strident feminism of Keaton's character.
"The most important revolution that occurred in our lifetime is the revolution of the female," he said.
While filming "Reds," Beatty and Keaton began dating. According to "Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America," a 2010 biography by Peter Biskind, Keaton was one of the approximately 12,775 women Beatty bedded over the course of his career.
Baldwin broached Beatty's Casanova reputation with a wink, asking the filmmaker the "pros and cons of directing a woman in a lead role who is a special friend of yours."
"It can be confusing," Beatty said, of having off-screen relationships with co-stars. "It can get in the way. It's very hard to meet someone [on screen] that you already know. It can also be a big advantage."
Despite making political films and stumping for liberal politicians and causes, Beatty has resisted efforts to get him to run for public office. "To serve in public office now makes one more a ratifier than a leader," he said, and cited as a deterrent the experience of his friend, former Democratic Sen. Gary Hart, whose presidential campaign was derailed by reports of an extramarital affair.
In 2005, Beatty said he was retiring from the movie business, but on Saturday night the actor implied that he may be readying a comeback. His four children, with wife Annette Bening, are growing up.
"I have four kids -- 11, 14, 16 and 19 -- that I think of as small Middle Eastern countries with whom I have to negotiate," Beatty said. "Each one of them is more interesting than five movies. But I'm gonna make another movie. In fact. I'll make several. It would be better for them."
[For the Record 7:42 a.m. May 2: An earlier version of this post misspelled Charles Bluhdorn's name as Charles Bludhorn.]
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Photo: Alec Baldwin and Warren Beatty at the TCM Classic Film Festival. Credit: Adam Rose / TCM