Kino/Film

Issue section: 
(388)

Gallery for Russian Art and Design (GRAD), London, until 29 March

Cinema was in its infancy when revolution in Russia toppled the old order in 1917. From the beginning photography and film were seen as important educators by the new workers' government.

Lenin argued that finance for film should be divided between the popular and a cinema that widened the base of the revolution. For millions film brought the outside world into the their lives. Film could only be "real".

Also from the beginning those artists from the avant-garde who had stayed with the revolution wanted desperately to abandon the easel and the bourgeois gallery, to unite life and art. A revolution took place in photography and graphics between 1917 and 1930 and this was gloriously seen in the posters advertising film.

Film above all was the most controversial and experimental. Filmmakers attempted to develop a way of filming narrative that brought out the contradictions in class society; we witnessed the idea of the archetype, an image of a boss to represent all bosses, scabs crawling out of sewers and the suffering of the masses through montage.

Alongside the political film were domestic potboilers, exotic adventures and crime thrillers. The poster maker made all film exciting, and as with the silent film the poster communicated to a world that was largely an illiterate audience. This exhibition at the new Gallery for Russian Film and Design shows just a few of the posters made during the late 1920s.

Unfortunately there is none of the earlier work, but you can still see the vibrancy and the desire to use both type and screen print to construct a new form of graphic representation.

The best are those by the Stenberg Brothers, The Three million Case (1926) and October (1927), and the most conservative by Israil Bograd for the most revolutionary film, The End of St Petersburg (1928).

In both of these last films the directors were instructed to remove Trotsky from history. So in many ways these posters are also representative of the slide towards Socialist Realism.

Some of the most experimental and constructivist posters are not in the exhibition, which is a shame. Originals of these are probably lost, or still locked away.

Excerpts from the early films, Vertov's Man With A Movie Camera, Pudovkin's Storm Over Asia and Sergi Eisenstein's October, are shown beside the posters and the gallery resounds with their soundtrack, also composed by the most modern of musicians, so the feeling that these art forms were both new and driven by events is strong.

One of the curators is Lutz Becker who was responsible for the first exhibition of Soviet art at the Haywood in 1971. It was that exhibition that first exposed the art of the revolution to a generation of young designers, photographers and filmmakers, radicalised by the events of 1968. So our debt to him continues.