Monday, January 20, 2014

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (Pokazatelnyy protsess: Istoriya Pussy Riot)
















PUSSY RIOT:  A PUNK PRAYER (Pokazatelnyy protsess: Istoriya Pussy Riot) – made for TV          B-    
Russia  Great Britain  (88 mi)  2013  d:  Max Pozdorovkin and Mike Lerner 

Art is not a mirror to reflect the world,
but a hammer with which to shape it. 
—Bertolt Brecht

Pussy Riot is an interesting phenomenon, a performance art collective that takes on the persona of a feminist punk band to spread its subversive message of feminist power and freedom, formed on August 2011, the same day Vladimir Putin announced he would be a candidate for Russian President after having already served two consecutive terms, the maximum allowed in Russia.  While protests and demonstrations took to the street, none had the impact of this Riot Grrl act, something of an outcry of a rebellious Kathleen Hanna from Bikini Kills in The Punk Singer (2013), as it was clearly designed as a challenge of freedom of speech under the authoritarian rule of Putin, where 3 girls in the band, Nadia Tolokonnikova, Masha Alyokhina, and Katia Samutsevich were sentenced to 2 years in prison for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,” which is seen as little more than trumped up charges everywhere else in the world except Russia, a country that simply doesn’t understand performance art or punk music.  In her testimony before the court, one of the girls (Katia) claimed there was only one single university throughout the entire country of Russia that even acknowledges modern art exists, the Rodchenko Moscow School of Photography and Multimedia where she graduated.  On the day in question, several Pussy Riot girls wearing ski masks stormed the altar at the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow and tried to plug in their guitars and sing an anti-Putin message, though this protest only lasted 40 seconds before the police hauled them away.  That church in particular, according to the group, was chosen as it’s where the orthodox priests gave Putin their blessing over Easter services, uniting the church and state into one absolute autocracy.  The film shows excerpts of the arrest, brief performance tapes, the police interrogation, and the ensuing trial where the girls were kept behind a protective glass cage, supposedly for the public’s safety?  While they acknowledge they are completely non-violent and have no intent to hurt or harm anyone, their message is simply designed as a provocative act of liberation.    

To the West, Russia is synonymous with a 20th century revolutionary uprising, where the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 is one of the notable achievements in Russian history, Ten Days that Shook the World, where the absolute power of the Czar was turned over to the masses.  So why would they now be afraid of a few girls with guitars?  Pussy Riot had done a few earlier performances, all spontaneously erupting in public places, recorded on YouTube, wearing ski masks, waving banners, holding flares as they create a brash attitude of punk anarchy and rebellion.  These events, however, are little more than publicity stunts, designed to go viral over the Internet, where young people are more affected as nearly all of them follow updated events on their iPhones.  What set this event apart was that it took place in the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches in the world, where the church turned to its religious zealots to bring their outrage to the extreme nationalists of Putin, where together they joined forces in declaring Nadia a “demon with a brain,” actually taking seriously the satiric notion that she was out to destroy the church, calling the event blasphemy, suggesting she would have been burned in the 16th century, an act of condemnation they obviously find acceptable, where one of the church elders sums it all up with the chilling commentary, “There have always been witches that wouldn’t repent.” The church floods the streets with outraged parishioners, while State TV shows condemn the group for their religious disrespect, all demanding severe punishment.   Even Putin went on record in a television interview and claimed “they got what they asked for.”  One of the more interesting segments is the all-male police interrogation, where Katia is asked if she wants to get married and have children (Nadia is already married, while she and Masha already have children), and she responds that this is what they’ve always been “told” what girls should want, that really many girls, including herself, have no interest whatsoever.  To many Putinists and orthodox Russians, this belief seems to signify their actual crime.  

While the Pussy Riot’s lawyers called the arrests “cynical and unlawful,” the trial itself was seen as a show trial presented before the public, drawing unprecedented international press coverage, where the complaining witnesses, one by one, ended up being a stream of church parishioners, where the outcome felt predetermined all along, as the State’s moral authority, as represented by that infamous alignment between Putin and the Orthodox Church, held their ground.  The solidarity of the girls throughout is impressive, maintaining a defiant sense of humor, believing they held the higher moral ground, where their humorous stunts and TV court appearances declaring the whole process a farce would only earn them legions of supporters.  Before pronouncing sentencing, however, each of the defendants was allowed a final comment, where Nadia indicated “Pussy Riot is a form of oppositional art, political action that utilizes artistic forms.  It is a form of civic activism against a corporate political system that uses its power against basic human rights.”  The three were sentenced to two years in prison.  Two of the Pussy Riot members, Nadia and Katia (who was eventually released on appeal as it was proven she “didn’t” do as accused, as she was arrested before she could even get the guitar strap off her shoulder, never singing or playing a single note), were also members of Voina since 2007, an anarchist art collective where one of their earlier stunts posted to the Internet was photographing several members, including an 8-month pregnant Nadia, getting naked and having sex in a Russian Biology Museum, a satirist response to President Medvedev’s announcement to increase the birth rate in Russia.  Perhaps the ultimate irony of this made-for-TV documentary about such politically inspired performance artists is such a conventional, by-the-numbers approach in making a movie about them, as they obviously deserve better.  Throughout the film, Pussy Riot never actually sings an entire song, even the theme song playing over the end credits turns out to be Peaches and Simonne Jones singing “Free Pussy Riot.”

Postscript
After having served 21 months of a 24-month sentence, the remaining two Pussy Riot girls, Nadia and Masha, were released just after Christmas of 2013 under a recently passed Amnesty law that allowed their early release without ever admitting to any crime. 

No comments:

Post a Comment