Director: Margy Kinmonth
Writer: Margy Kinmonth
Starring: Matthew Macfadyen, Tom Hollander, James Fleet, Daisy Bevan, Eleanor Tomlinson
Country: United Kindom
Running time: 85 minutes
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: PG

Revolution: New Art For A New World is a feature length documentary about Russian avant-garde art; directed, written and narrated by Margy Kinmonth. This is a largely historic account of the art surrounding the Russian Revolution of 1917. With the privileged Tsars being overthrown by the peoples’ taking of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg came the Bolshevik order of command, where the ‘workers of the world’ united to assume power. Included with the workers were the artists, who were themselves responding to the discontent spreading the land.

Revolution does a good job of setting the scene, and introducing the artists associated with this period of Russian art history. The film discusses all aspects of visual art, including photography, painting, graphic design, sculpture, cinema, and physical theatre; covering artists as diverse as Kazimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky, Alexander Rodchenko, Dziga Vertov, Pavel Filonov, Petrov Vodkin, Marc Chagall, Varvar Stepanova, and Gustav Kluzis. The documentary manages to weave together the stories of all the different artists and sub-factions of the avant-garde; from the Suprematism of Malevich, to the Constructivism of  Rodchenko and Stepanova, to the Abstraction of Kandinsky, to the Surrealism of Chagall.

Parallel to the art comes the politics, and Revolution portrays how the art was initially inspired by the utopian dreams and depicting a new order and new ways of being, then confined by the theoretical control of Lenin and the one-party state, which led art to be conceived as ‘monumental propaganda’. The documentary highlights the demise of initial dreams to state control, Lenin’s death, the emergence of the tyrant Joseph Stalin, and the resulting terror. Many of these artists came to be seen as counter revolutionary, and were either sent to Gulag labour camps or escaped Russia to live lives of exile elsewhere. The documentary also tells the story of how much of this art had to be hidden by curators because it didn’t conform to the style of Socialist Realism required by the Central Committee of the Communist Party (CCCP). In the films conclusion, Revolution tells the story of a return to traditional techniques within the artistic establishment of Russia.

I thought this film was a very well researched and informative documentary. I did wonder if the film maker could have made more of an effort to critique the role of art in making a political statement, perhaps trying to draw some parallels with contemporary art. The film focussed on the failure of the Russian Revolution and the emergence of totalitarianism and tyranny. Artists like Banksy manage to make profound political commentary, that transcends both propaganda and the middle class elitism of ‘avant guard’ art generally. It’s a minor point, but the documentary didn’t seem to include this level of analysis and comparison.

I did however find this film very interesting, bringing together a wide range of artists of the Russian avant-garde, and would recommend it to anyone interested in the visual arts, and influences that have shaped many other areas of art and graphic representation generally.

DVD Extras include 23 minutes of unseen footage.

Revolution: New Art For A New World is released by Foxtrot films on DVD on 3rd April 2017

Revolution: New Art For A New World
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