The Punk Singer (2013)

punksingerWhen I hear there’s a documentary out about one of my favorite singers, songwriters, authors, filmmakers, etc., I get really nervous. Will the director paint them in a negative light? Will it be a crappy, half-hearted documentary that reveals nothing interesting and only repeats hollow, lame garbage we already knew? Sometimes, the answer is yes. Other times, I leave the theater relieved, maybe even elated at the picture they’ve painted of the artist in question. I’m happy to report the latter is the case with The Punk Singer, a documentary about one of my all-time favorite ladies, Kathleen Hanna.

When I was an angsty little teenager, nothing made me happier than listening to Hanna’s band, Bikini Kill. Except maybe the look on that curious boy’s face in photography class when he asked to hear what I was listening to and I blithely let him listen to Alien She. The look of shock and horror on his face made me smile deeply, and it still does today. I’m glad Bikini Kill gave me at least one thing to smile about in high school.

Kathleen Hanna, Bikini Kill, and all the members of the Riot Grrrl movement didn’t give a fuck, and that’s what made them so attractive to me as a kid. As an adult, watching this documentary made me remember exactly what I felt back in high school, and my respect for Hanna and the movement actually grew. Those ladies have some serious balls. They didn’t like the sexist rules society was making them play by, so they wrote their own. They didn’t like the fact their female friends were getting harassed, raped and murdered and no one gave a damn, so they spoke up about it.

The documentary covers all of this territory through face time with some major players, and plenty with Hanna herself, who tells us her story pre-Bikini Kill all the way through to Le Tigre’s final show and her newest musical project, The Julie Ruin. It’s kind of hard for me not to fawn all over this documentary, and Hanna, because I just freakin’ think she’s so damn cool.

Before I sat down and watched this, though, I have to admit I didn’t realize this stuff was going on right in my backyard – Bikini Kill and some others in the Riot Grrrl movement were very active in the Washington, DC area. Unfortunately for me, I was around eleven years old when it was going down. I was, no doubt, obsessively listening to Pearl Jam’s Ten at the time. I guess I just missed being part of the revolution, but it still touched me just a few years later, and I know high school wouldn’t have been tolerable without it.

Well, this is more a reminiscent love letter to Kathleen Hanna than a review of this documentary, isn’t it? I guess that just speaks to how difficult it is for me to have an unbiased opinion about this film. I can say pretty firmly that it affected me in a very positive way. It made me feel lucky for having stumbled into Riot Grrrl bands as a kid. And I think it would do anyone involved with Riot Grrrl proud. Having also just read Sara Marcus’ chronicle of the Riot Grrrl movement, Girls to the Front, which talks a whole hell of a lot about the issues the movement suffered with the media and its many proposed media blackouts, I think it is save to say this documentary does Hanna and the movement justice. Definitely recommended for anyone who gives a crap about feminism, punk rock, and the 90’s.

1 Response to “The Punk Singer (2013)”

  1. 1 ladyfaceladyface
    January 26, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Dang–I missed a one-off screening here. I’ll have to catch it the next time around.

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