Documentary

DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: ‘Revolution — New Art for a New World’ (Kinmonth, 2016) – comprehensive and visually striking, but strictly for beginners

Rating:

November 13, 2016

revolution-quad-final2x-1-1Revolution — New Art for a New World is a new documentary by a filmmaker Margy Kinmonth, which premiered in London last week and is expected to show at cinemas across the UK and around the world. Its release is timely, coinciding both with the approaching centenary of the Russian Revolution and a wide range of exhibitions to be held in the UK capital throughout the next year, all related to this landmark historical event. These include, amongst others, Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932 at the Royal Academy of Arts; Liberty and Revolution: Russia 1917 Revisited at the British Library and Red Star over Russia at Tate Modern.

Kinmonth’s movie provides a concise overview of the developments which occurred within the Russian art world just before and after the October Revolution. It’s the story of art liberating itself: escaping from the stuffy rooms of the Imperial Academy of Arts and marching into the streets towards the people – of artists feeling empowered to change the world and actively contributing to the making of the new Soviet man and new Soviet Russia.

fantasyFocusing on Moscow and St Petersburg as two main centres of revolutionary avant-garde activity, the film takes the viewer through the interiors and into the storage rooms of the most renowned Russian museums, including The State Tretyakov Gallery, The Russian Museum and The Hermitage. It allows the audience to step into the houses and studios of the artists’ descendants, many of whom, as it turns out, are artists themselves. The movie’s shot beautifully, often pointing the viewer’s eye towards unusual viewpoints of the capitals’ architectural landmarks or zooming in on specific parts of  artworks, allowing one to see even some of the very famous ones – by the likes of Aleksandr Rodchenko, Kazimir Malevich, Aleksandr Deineka and Piotr Konchalovsky – in a new and exciting light.

Yet the Revolution, despite featuring many extraordinarily beautiful and important pieces of early Soviet art, left this viewer slightly indifferent. It tells a very conventional story of Russian avant-garde art eager to change the world in the first post-revolutionary years and later, towards the 1930s, brutally stifled by the Stalinist regime. Even though the film-makers have tried to make the story more personal and original by using the voices of many renowned scholars, curators and descendants; and, though it attempts to bring the artists to life at one moment with a roleplay, it nevertheless remains too safely within the well-established narrative.

revolutionnewartforthenewworldpanelThis isn’t to say the narrative itself is incorrect, but you can’t help wishing some lesser-known aspects of this exciting and complex period could have been illuminated and focused on in more depth, to make a more original contribution to the topic. As an audience member pointed out in the Q&A session afterwards, the film only scrapes the surface, completely excluding a number of important aspects – like the regional spread of avant-garde activity. Surprisingly, it also displayed scarcely any material from private collections, which – rarely on view as it is – would have made a substantial difference.

For those with at least partial knowledge of the subject, there’s thus little new to be discovered here. Yet the film’s surely aimed first and foremost at a general audience and – in that capacity – provides a comprehensive and visually striking introduction.

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Margy Kinmoth’s Revolution — New Art for a New World premiered at Curzon Mayfair on 10 November 2016.

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