Kino/Film: Soviet Posters of the Silent Screen at GRAD

RoboCop, 2014…

Movie posters are everywhere: on the sides of buses, as you wait at the bus stop, on huge billboards that loom over the street, a fleeting image in the Underground as you rush past to catch your train on time without resisting the urge to take a look. Even in the era of pervasive preview trailers – the average blockbuster seems intent to release as many ‘teasers’ as humanely possible without reducing the entire movie to one minute soundbites – they still have their particular power. While most seem intent to display the big movie faces whose names are splashed across the picture, their compsition and iconic nature makes them instantly recognisable and transmits messages we have become sensitive to, accustomed to.

They are a form of entertainment propaganda of their own.

…versus Eisenstein’s October, 1927, Poster by Stenberg Brothers (Image credit: Gallery for Russian Arts and Design, Antikbar)

‘Kino/Film: Soviet Posters of the Silent Screen’, at the Gallery for Russian Arts and Design encapsulates this perfectly, portraying Soviet 1920s film posters for iconic films of the era. These were produced by Reklam Films, within a state-controlled organization, Sovinko. The fascinating element of these posters is this mingling of a social realist style geared towards mass propaganda with true concerns about colour, form and composition to attract the eye, create dramatic effect through the visual rather than throughout a particular message about the content of the film.

Strong visual designs, mingling with powerful palettes of red and yellow against black and white, play with modernist motifs of cubism and futurism, while keeping an aspect of realism that is, however, more stylized than with its political posters; is this to create additional empathy with the audience, rather than make a specific actor’s face recognisable?

Aleksandr-Naumov-Oil-1927-Courtesy-GRAD-Gallery-for-Russian-Arts-and-Design1 (1)
Aleksandr Naumov, Oil, 1927 (Image credit: Gallery for Russian Arts and Design, Antikbar)

 This exhibition on poster films from the silent movie era is not devoid of movement or sound, since aliongside the posters meant to advertise them, extracts of these films are shozn. The most famous features, such as Battleship Potemkin and Man with a Movie Camera are present but so are other more obscure but amazing gems such as Chess Fever …It shows a comic, slapstick approach offering interesting contrasts with politically manoeuvered films and their military accounts or the experimental glorification of technology and industry of Vertov.

A Real Gentleman,1928, poster by Stenberg Brothers (Image credit: Gallery for Russian Arts and Design, Antikbar)

The juxtaposition of films and posters worked very well in my opinion, although the addition of the soundtrack music for the different films, in one same room, could make the viewing a bit confusing, and sightly jarring when the music you listened to contrasted starkly with the content on the screen. Yet this did not distract me greatly from the experience – on the contrary, it had a bit of an experimental side to it…

An additional detail that I loved: the audiobook was free to listen to, and is also available on their website, hosted by Soundcloud. The fitting mood of this mass distribution is not lost on me…and very much appreciated as well! This, added to a free entry to an exhibition showing extremely rare and unique posters makes this a small visit in the center of London definitely worth experiencing before the end of March.

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