The Punk Singer documentary review: rage against the misogyny
A fantastic introduction to original riot grrrl Kathleen Hanna and her groundbreaking work in music, feminism, and all-around kickass awesomeness.
I’m “biast” (pro):
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
I can’t believe I’d never heard of Kathleen Hanna before, but then again, punk music was never my thing. Now, she’s my new hero. The Punk Singer, the first feature from documentarian Sini Anderson, is a fantastic introduction to Hanna and her groundbreaking work in music, feminism, and all-around kickass awesomeness in which, it seems, she simply cannot help but be a leader and an inspiration even beyond her circle of enthusiastic fans. In the late 1980s in the Pacific Northwest, she smashed frustrating barriers on the pre-grunge punk scene with her band Bikini Kill, which not only raged in their music against all the crap girls and women put up with but also worked to make their performances safer for and more inclusive of female fans, who were literally being marginalized, pushed out to the fringes, by the violence of mosh-pit audience spaces. Hanna’s “mission” was never about money, and, indeed, money never came — unlike for her best friend Kurt Cobain, who got famous selling a similar sort of male rage, while her brand of aggressive would never be considered commercial. Instead, she was as much an activist as an artist, publishing fanzines that spread what would become the manifesto of the riot grrrl movement… which, the film fails to mention, paved the way for and inspired digital feminism when the Web came along. The film, which interweaves grainy old video with new interviews and analysis of her impact, is structured as a sort of mystery: Why did Hanna, after post-Bikini Kill solo work and a stint as part of dance-punk trio Le Tigre, about whom it is said that “this was not a girl who was gonna fade into the background,” suddenly stop performing in 2005? Anderson has the answer… and it is so unexpected that I never could have predicted it, and it moves Hanna in a direction where she can be an inspiration in remarkable new ways. It’s also a beautiful illustration of a snippet of Hanna’s feminist wisdom: “There’s always a suspicion around women’s truth, that she’s exaggerating.” The Punk Singer is her truth, unvarnished and totally refreshing, that women are allowed to be angry and deserve to be heard.