DIR: Sini Anderson • WRI: Simon Kinberg • PRO: Sini Anderson, Gwen Bialic, Tamra Davis, Rachel Dengiz, Erin Owens, Alan Oxman • DOP: Jennie Jeddry, Moira Morel • CAST: Kathleen Hanna, Carrie Brownstein, Kim Gordon
While most people will say that punk is dead, this film attests to the fact that it might still be alive and well, its spirit encapsulated in the body of one Ms. Kathleen Hanna. Similarly, while some people might think that feminism isn’t a “thing” anymore (sure we have the vote now right?), this film will demonstrate the continuing importance of being a feminist and making just as much noise about it as possible.
The Punk Singer is a vibrant documentary which charts the beginnings of feminist punk movement riot grrrl and its legacy, while also detailing Hanna’s personal journey from her days fronting Bikini Kill to the present day. While the documentary is – like the riot grrrl movement – extremely energetic, it also has some incredibly poignant moments in which details of Hanna’s reasons for disappearing from the music scene are addressed.
The riot grrrl movement can be seen to coincide with the blossoming of third-wave feminism whereby, rather than seeing “femininity” as antithetical to feminism (concurrent with the general views of the second-wavers) young women were reclaiming femininity as an essential part of their feminist identities. Cue a bunch of young artistic American women forming punk bands in the early ’90s, calling themselves “grrrls”, dressing however they wanted and singing lyrics about sexual abuse and victimisation as though to a male audience. And yet, these women were championing other young girls and women, calling them to the front of the stage at their gigs and ultimately creating a space in which young women felt that their voices were being heard. That is the legacy of riot grrrl and of Kathleen Hanna.
While riot grrrl was an incredibly inspiring feminist subcultural movement, The Punk Singer does not shy away from detailing the problems that Hanna encountered being in the middle of it all. In 1997, Hanna moved on to a solo project which she called Julie Ruin. Recording the music at home, Hanna addresses the way in which the bedrooms of young women often become their secret spaces of creativity and it was this feeling that she wanted her solo music to evoke. Finally quitting Bikini Kill in 1999 – ten years after the band was formed – she soon joined another band called Le Tigre, with whom she wrote more positive, upbeat music (something she says she needed to do). While the reason for quitting Le Tigre is revealed along the way, Hanna still continues to make music with her band The Julie Ruin, thus showing that, despite the many obstacles that came her way both in her musical career and personal life, she won’t be silenced.
The Punk Singer is an important and entertaining documentary in which Kathleen Hanna’s fierce spirit and musical talents are laid out for a whole new generation of “grrrls” to be inspired by. As Hanna once said about being a musician, “you don’t have to have magic unicorn powers. You work at it, and you get better. It’s like anything: You sit there and do it every day, and eventually you get good at it.”
The Punk Singer is released on 23rd May 2014