Although fascinating, I found the style of Ms. Lambert's book irritating, in that it took the form of patronising 'soundbites' arranged in a vaguely thematic manner, rather than letting the interviewees tell their own stories. I therefore bought the DVD hoping to hear the interviews in a more coherent form; what I was not expecting was the amount of new material.
If you bought and enjoyed the book, please do not let that put you off from buying this DVD; there is sufficient lack of overlap for the purchase to be worth it. If you bought the book but found it irritatingly lightweight, give the documentary a try: this is obviously Ms. Lambert's metier, and gives greater insight into the strange world to which she has gained access. If you have not read the book, prepare to be amazed.
This is far more than a film about tattoo art - although the tattoos are fascinating and often hauntingly beautiful - it encompasses shanson (the distinct style of prison-related popular music), the Russian penal system (where you can spend years in appallingly crowded conditions while awaitng trial), and some of the arcane customs associated with the Thieves' Code. Most of all, it is a snapshot of a society in transition, where the older prisoners mourn the passing of the old ways, since no one respects the status encoded in the traditional tattoos because now "everything can be got by money", whilst the younger ones regret the ending of the old government, because "under the Soviets you knew what sentence you would get" for a particular crime (and, presumably, plan your criminal career accordingly!)
More differences between film and book:
* the documentary does not cover women's prisons at all, whilst the book has a chapter devoted to them
* the documentary largely sidesteps the issues regarding forcible tattoos, as illustrated in the book with archive photographs
* the book illustrates its themes with photos drawn from all periods, whilst the documentary concentrates on the tattoos on the prisoners actually interviewed
* the material is orgsnised chronologically in the film, rather than thematically, as in the book - this makes it easier to understand the differences between the different types of incarceration involved in the Russian system
* the book expends considerable space on the state criminologists, who collect and study tattoos, but not on the guards; the documentary is more interested in the lives and attitudes of prison staff
Finally, for anyone who has read the book, the sight of the formidable Semyon (who put his enemies' heads on posts and wears tattoos illustrating his readiness to kill for hire) tap-dancing for the camera is not to be missed!