Revolution: New Art for a New World (2016) – DVD Review
Director: Margy Kinmonth
by Rachael Popow
This year marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution, and whether you think that’s something worth celebrating or not, this documentary convincingly argues that it marks the beginning of a momentous period in art.
Directed and produced by the Bafta-winning Margy Kinmonth, Revolution: New Art for a New World examines how the events of 1917 spark an avant-garde movement. One of the key works is Malevich’s Black Square, which looks exactly as you would expect from the title. The film shows that in the early days, artists are excited about the possibilities of creating a new utopia – and their work is embraced by the state, who sees it as a way to communicate with the large sections of the population that were illiterate.
As the documentary ruefully points out, even when people are starving, there are always funds for art. There are also new opportunities for artists who would not have been able to make their creative voices heard in imperial Russia, including the Jewish Chagall.
However, this period of optimism does not last long. By the early 1920s, many of the most important artists, including Chagall and Kandinsky, are leaving. Those who stay eventually have to contend with Stalin, who brings creative freedom to an end as he insists on socialist realism rather than the avant-garde.
Kinmonth looks at how a number of pieces only survive his purge because they are hidden by gallery curators. But there is often nowhere to hide for the artists themselves. Even those who have created propaganda posters can face execution or the gulags.
It’s a fascinating story, accessibly told. No background in art or Russian history is required. If anything, it’s arguably a little too simplified in places – the dramatic reconstructions really don’t add a lot and could easily have been excised.
However, there are interesting interviews with some of the artists’ descendants, as well as an impressive cast of British actors (who thankfully don’t attempt Russian accents) to read some of the key player’s own words.
The best lines tend to go to Tom Hollander’s Malevich, who on this evidence wouldn’t have been surprised to discover he was still being studied 100 years later. And of course there’s the art itself, which remains so striking and, as Kinmonth points out, has outlived the political revolution that inspired it.
images: © www.foxtrotfilms.com