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Jun 082013
 

By Gerald Peary.

A scene from HBO’s PUSSY RIOT: A PUNK PRAYER

Climbing up high at Red Square and singing “Kill all Sexists” and “Putin Pissed Himself,” that’s a pretty cool and brazen guerilla action by Moscow’s punk feminist band, Pussy Riot. But what about their decision, on February 21, 2012, to crash the pulpit of the Christ the Savior Cathedral during a church service and spew out “a punk prayer” insinuating a boudoir entwinement of Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church? And totally freak out the gathered worshippers?

Is it blasphemous to say that, strategically, that was a rash, blockheaded thing for Pussy Riot to do, not exactly a way to win converts to their leftist, anti-government message? And another miscalculation? Perhaps, while being arrested in the church, might the Pussy Riot women—Nadia, Masha, and Katia—have refrained from singing one of their secular anthems, “Shit, shit, it’s God’s shit”?

The world knows some of what happened after, that, predictably, Russia’s religious community went crazy with anger, not understanding in any way the exaggerations of punk rhetoric nor getting conceptual art and “happenings.” Meanwhile, the disruption of the cathedral service was taken very seriously by Russian prosecutors, who kept the three who were arrested jailed and then brought them to trial on solemn, grown-up charges. Putin’s revenge from on high? So there they were handcuffed in court and confined to a glass booth, much like Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Filmmakers Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorvkin followed the proceedings for their Frontline-style documentary, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, which, on June 10, opens HBO’s Monday nights summer documentary series.

What you get with the film is the absorbing day-by-day of the trial and also a vivid look at the three Pussy Rioters who, because of their incarceration, have had their identities revealed. (Others in the feminist band are shown in the film hidden behind knitted neon masks.)

In Russia, the defenders of Nadia, Masha, and Katia have compared their plight to the victims of the infamous Stalinist “Show Trials” of the ’30s. Historic-minded Americans might look back, perhaps, to the Trial of the Chicago 8, though that was definitely all guys. The Pussy Riot Three, who are all proclaimed revolutionaries, remind me of the women of the Weather Underground—haughty, educated, defiant, and, yes, sexy. Unbending in their principles but also, at moments, touchingly vulnerable. And courageous, staying amazingly strong during their byzantine trials and remaining stoic through their cruel imprisonment. As I write, Katia went free, but Nadia and Masha are serving two-year terms in the Russian penal system.

Future HBO documentaries of note this summer include Love Marilyn on June 17, memories of Ms. Monroe on the 50th anniversary of her death, made by the excellent filmmaker Liz Garbus, and First Comes Love on July 29, the seriocomic personal tale of how, sans husband, ex-Boston and Harvard-based documentarian Nina Davenport came to give birth to a baby.

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