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Movie review – Art is…The Permanent Revolution


I have never known a movie title with an ellipsis in it…and I don’t imagine that will become a trend. But that’s a small nit to pick in Art is…The Permanent Revolution, a documentary by Manfred Kirchheimer that focuses on three contemporary printmakers who make anti-war art. Along the way, the movie tells the stories (and shows the images) of some of the greatest protest art through the ages.


It’s hard to say what’s better in the 82 minute documentary, the behind-the-scenes look at the studio practice of Sigmund Abeles, etcher, Ann Chernow, lithographer and Paul Marcus, woodcutter, or the parade of magnificent images by Goya, Daumier and the rest of art history’s activists.

The printmakers talk easily in front of the camera, and as they tell you about their processes, they show you their processes — which is a treat for those who love prints and want to understand how printmaking works.

The artists are full of information about art history, which is also great, and the talk unearths some terrific trivia, like, for example, something I learned from Ann Chernow (and her printer James Reed), namely, that all the limestone for lithography stones comes from one mountain in Bavaria — who knew.

Lithographer Ann Chernow, working on her anti-war print in the movie
Lithographer Ann Chernow, working on her anti-war print in the movie

This lovely video art history lesson has a soundtrack that seeks to make the image parade come to life. In one segment, for example, an image shows Nazi storm troopers and the soundtrack cues the sound of thunderous, stomping boots. It sounds corny but the sound effects really work, almost animating the 2D images. In addition to the non-music sound effects, there is plenty of moody classical and Brecht-Weill-ian music, too, which emphasizes the seriousness of the subject matter.

This is a film with a narrow focus — anti-war art. Given that we are at war still in Afghanistan, and will be fighting the War on Terror for the foreseeable future, the subject is relevant, although the contemporary print by Paul Marcus about water-boarding, while haunting, seems not as timely as it would have been five years ago.

If I had any suggestion, it would be to make Art is…The Permanent Revolution, Part Two, and broaden the subject beyond anti-war art to all forms of art dealing with social justice issues. In Part Two we could have artists like William Kentridge, Kara Walker, Carolee Schneemann, and other artists from the recent past like David Wojnarowicz, all of whose art is arguably part of  art’s permanent revolution.

Art is…The Permanent Revolution is enjoyable. The parade of amazing art historical imagery accompanied by stirring music is alone worthwhile. I wished the movie had dealt with a broader swath of socially-conscious art. But like I suggest, a Part Two could cover that.  Part One is just fine.

Art is…The Permanent Revolution

The movie is available as an instant play on Netflix.