Margy Kinmonth (director)
A Foxtrot Films Production (studio)
10 November 2016 (released)
31 October 2016
Director Margy Kinmonth came to this project after working in Russia on a number of films and absorbing the culture while she was there. An area rarely referred tois the art of the Russian Avant-garde pre and post the revolution. Seeing that there was an important story to tell she set about researching the subject. This lead to some remarkable discoveries and also learning of the terrible suffering some of the artists went through. These stories are given added poignancy as they are recounted by descendants of the artists - some of whom are artists themselves.
Kinmonth also brought in a troupe of actors Matthew Macfadyen, Tom Hollander, James Fleet Eleanor Tomlinson and Daisy Bevan, to voice the words of Lenin, Malevich, Kandinsky, Lyubov Popova and Varvara Stepanova respectively. This doesn’t really add to much the film but isn’t a distraction either.
Which is welcome as the story of the Russian avant-garde and politics is fascinating. It is though not a complete surprise that politicians and artists are happy to exploit each other for mutual benefit, until such time as usefulness runs out. Once that happens it usually the artist that comes off the worst. The death of Gustav Klutsis a case in point his photo montages suited a purpose until Stalin decided they didn’t.
His was the fate of many of the artists who pre-revolution were producing some of the world’s most distinctive art. The debate about Malevich’s Black Square continues today (dramatised during the film) while the works of those who left during that period, Kandinsky and Chagall for example, are now so part of the mainstream that there is a danger that they have lost all meaning.
The starting point is Eisenstein’s October, the supposed recreation of the storming of the winter Palace now known to be a propaganda exercise. So, we move forward as communism starts to take hold and a once flourishing, invigorating and challenging artistic community is shunned, persecuted, imprisoned and in some cases murdered.
Much of this art is now in storage - virtually ignored by the Russian establishment and public - and one of the most remarkable aspects of this film is the access that Kinmouth was granted. The work of some of these almost forgotten artists is astonishing, and the film could possibly have concentrated more on these. As such we are given tantalising views of some of the most distinctive work the avant-garde ever produced.
Revolution is a ravishing visual feast and a documentary that serves as an introduction to both the Russian revolution, its politics and the avant-garde art that flourished, and was then demonised. Thoroughly absorbing all the way through, its presented with the sort of enthusiasm which just makes you want to go and find out more about both the art and revolution.