Movies pussy2

Published on February 22nd, 2018 | by Robert Barry Francos

0

Act & Punishment: The Pussy Riot Trials

Act & Punishment: The Pussy Riot Trials looks at the band Pussy Riot, while we consider whether their music is as successful as their name.

You say you want a revolution…

Pussy Riot is now more than just a band, they are the symbols of a social movement that have spawned a few documentaries. In many countries, it’s the art students that are on the forefront of revolution. They see an imaginative vision of what is possible and what is needed through eyes of those who have studied philosophy, art history, and culture, and have the education to extrapolate from what is to what can be. This scares a lot of politicians.

This documentary wisely starts off with this theme, interviewing painters and art historians, and showing how the “artist” has been at the forefront of activism, even in the time of Ivan the Terrible. This motif is picked up repeatedly as a subtopic throughout the film. When we first meet our heroes, however, they are at trial, stating their names, places of birth, etc., to the judge.

Once we get to know identify the trio that make up the core of Pussy Riot (PR), we “meet” them individually, talking directly to the camera, discussing how they came to where they met, and from there forward. Present are some consistent themes, such as politics, art, and especially Feminism. To me, PR is more punk rock feminism, by taking on the oppressive image of sexualized women and reclaiming it as something else. This is the empowerment that spawned PR.

PR played a post-punk rock sound musically reminiscent of the likes of Black Flag’s ‘Rise Above,’ spitting out lines of protest like bullets, but spiritually they are closer to the Riot Grrrls of the mid-1990s (aka the better half of grunge), and ideologically leaning toward anti-capitalists like Crass. In a few impromptu performances, they played guerrilla style in places like on top of a bus in a terminal, or in front of a prison. However, it was an attempted show which was shut down that got them arrested for “hooliganism,” which was in the main Russian Orthodox Church, whose congregation includes Putin. The head priest had come out in favor as Putin for President, and this was PR’s comment on that. Before they could even play, they were overwhelmed by a bunch of men, and shortly were in cuffs.

It was at this point PR became a meta-symbol for revolutionary vision and tactics as art. The video posted of them went viral and the music actually became secondary to what they stood for, which is, in my opinion, unfortunate. Movements can come and go, but the message of the music will remain afterwards. But I’m adding to what is beyond the scope of the documentary.

It’s very well put together in a mostly chronological order, mixed with post-event interviews with the trio of PR (Nadia, Masha, Katia; though up to 11 others have been in and out of the band over time). The whole she-bang is in Russian, of course, and there are subtitles throughout. By switching back and forth between PR and art-proper, the interest in both is kept at high levels, never sinking to overexposure of people nor ideology.

My one complaint about the whole PR movement, and this documentary in particular, is that as a punk rocker, I am interested in the music, as well as the activism. Talking about, say, the SoCal scene without hearing ‘Holiday in Cambodia,’ for example, sort of confuses the point, and takes out a key factor of both why and especially how the protests work.

There’s lots of footage of various marches of protest both in support of PR (mostly outside Russia), and those who oppose (the largest segment inside Russia). An interesting one that is massive is led by the church, full of women in traditional babushka headgear reminiscent of the hijab, or sheitels.

In a very short time, Pussy Riot went from relative obscurity to them and their crude woolen hats turned into hood-type balaclavas becoming iconic to the 2010s (arguably replaced in culture by the anti-Trump pussy hats); that is the political cache of PR. Yet, very few in the West know what they look like, what they actually stand for, and what is their musical direction. That’s part of why this documentary is so important on the world stage. It humanizes both the movement and who is behind it.

The movement is worldwide, but the focus is on Russia here, with protesters, and bands like Faith No More (‘We Care a Lot’) playing in Moscow while wearing PR-inspired woolen headgear. When PR members are sentence to prison in Russia, the worldwide protests are compiled into a powerful montage while we hear the song ‘Free Pussy Riot’ by Peaches and Simonne Jones.

The documentary ends at the same time as the trial does in 2011, which is not surprising considering the film’s title. What happened after, well, I’m guessing that may just be a sequel, which I will also look forward to seeing.

Tags: , , ,


About the Author

Robert Barry Francos

has lived in Saskatoon for five years, having spent most of his life in New York City. Part of the New York punk scene from nearly its inception, he has been known to hang out with musicians, artists and theatrical types. His fanzine, FFanzeen, was published from 1977 through 1988, giving him opportunity to see now famous bands in their early stages. Media, writing and photography have been a core interest for most of his life, leading to a Masters in Media Ecology from New York University. This has led to travel to Mexico, England, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Israel and Egypt, and recently he taught a university class in media theory in China.



Comments are closed.

Back to Top ↑

4/d325-7Lc0iXf6ND57sAcMpqERvBs.AuNPkqlzA8IbmmS0T3UFEsPcYXkxgAI