Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Propaganda time: Manfred Kirchheimer's ART IS...THE PERMANENT REVOLUTION

And just what's wrong with some hot propaganda? Nothing, according to Paul Marcus, one of the artists whose work and views are seen and heard in this new documen-tary (his photo's at the bottom of the post).  After all, notes Mr. Marcus, artists from Giotto to Albrecht Dürer have been handing out propaganda over the centuries, though theirs was used in the service of pushing religion rather than politics. In ART IS...THE PERMANENT REVOLUTION, German-born emigre Manfred Kirchheimer gives us a crash course in some of the world's best propaganda art, while interviewing three artists (while following their current projects) and a smart, talkative print-maker, all of whom produce this kind of art.

Herr Kirschheimer, shown at right -- who wrote, directed, produced and edited this film -- shows us why outrage is so important to these mostly left-leaning artists and how they've used it through the ages to nail the sleazy and guilty who were, among other activities, foisting war upon us while getting richer in the process.

His modern-day artists -- Sigmund Abeles, Ann Chernow (below) and the aforesaid Mr. Marcus -- prove fine hosts, as they show us their current project and lead us through various steps toward its completion. And that print-maker -- James Reed -- proves a font of good information about the various types of prints and how these are created.

But, really, for TrustMovies the major excitement of the film comes from seeing such an array of terrific artwork from the expected greats like Goya, Grosz (at left) and Daumier, as well as some artists better known for other types of art (Rembrandt and Picasso) and some that I had not heard of till now: Massereel and Kollwitz (the work of the latter is shown below), among a number of others. In all, the work of some 60-odd artists are assembled here -- most of them in black-and-white (which seems to preferred color choice for this kind of angry satire) and a few in fiery color.

Many artists of the periods shown tended to identify with the struggle of the masses (would that it were so today), and Kirschheimer notes the difference between political artists and humanist artists. While the former were always part of the latter, the reverse was not necessarily true. And while their work tended to enrage whatever powers-that-were (the work of Otto Dix, below, left the Nazi quite unhappy), these artists have left us a remarkable and indispensable history. (Early examples of water-boarding torture can be found in this film.)

There is history aplenty here, as well as information on wood art, soft ground prints and dry point. While the work shown here might be called ugly by, say, the standards of Thomas Kincaid, it is also never less than bracing to view. And the filmmaker has chosen some appropriate music to background his film -- everything from Brother, Can You Spare a Dime to various religious pieces and the rousing Which Side Are You On?

Art Is...The Permanent Revolution (from First Run Features, 82 minutes) opens this Friday, March 2, in New York City at the Quad Cinema. I would hope there will be more playdates around the country, but as of now, nothing is set.

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