The Russian avantgarde is a fascinating subject – not only because of the incredible quality of its output in such a short period, but also because of the human stories behind it (most artists, groomed under Lenin, were sent to gulags when Stalin and his Socialist Realism rose to power). Director Margy Kinmonth, who clearly found inspiration when shooting Hermitage Revealed in 2014, gives us Revolution: New Art for a New World, a good introduction to the art savvy and casual art lover alike.
Using archive footage from historical moments, quotes from the artists themselves, interviews with art historians, museum curators and descendants from the protagonists of the movement (many of them artists nowadays), Kinmonth presents History and Art side by side, connecting the new art with the creation of a new world order after the October revolution. From 1917 to the death of Stalin in 1953, Revolution: New Art for a New World gives us the background on known artists (Malevich, Chagall, Kandinsky, Meyerhold) and introduces us to others that aren’t as familiar outside their borders (Filonov, Petrov-Vodkin, Klutzis and so many more).
Edited with mastery by Gordon Mason, the documentary uses mirror effects to create a “modern art” feel to present Moscow and St Petersburg, wows us with its attention to anecdote and lets our eyes feast in a cinematography that doesn’t shame its subject. However, as usually is the case in such historical “compilation” documentaries, Revolution: New Art for a New World feels a bit too TV-y to justify a big screen release. Maybe it’s due to Kinmonth extensive experience with the small screen format, or the dubbed interviews (what’s so wrong with subtitles people?); either way, do not expect hard investigation or new discoveries – and no matter how happy we’re all are that museums decided to hide most of the art from Stalin’s orders, that is not, unfortunately, the angle of this film. An overall analysis of the movement’s impact on international post-modernism and Russian art nowadays would have been welcome as well; as it stands, it’s almost like Russian art became irrelevant by the 50s, which is far from the truth. And despite quick references to Meyerhold, Eisenstein and Vertov, this documentary is focused mostly on pictorial arts.
Nitpicking apart, as a condensed introduction to the subject, Revolution: New Art for a New World works fine, and makes us hungry for more media on the topic.
REVOLUTION: NEW ART FOR A NEW WORLD will be released on DVD 3rd April http://revolution.film/