THE PUNK SINGER
FILM REVIEW - THE PUNK SINGER
Release Date: 23rd May 2014 (Ireland)
Running Length: 80 minutes
Cast: Kathleen Hanna, Adam Horovitz, Johanna Fateman, JD Samson, Kim Gordon
Directed by: Sini Anderson
Produced by: Tamra Davis, Gwen Bialic, Rachel Dengiz, Erin Owens, Alan Oxman
Cinematography: Jennie Jeddry, Moira Morel
In today’s world where the male-crafted sexual objectification of Miley Cyrus and Rhianna are considered as evidence of female empowerment by their young audience, intelligent, outspoken feminist role models like Hanna are sorely missed.
The Punk Singer is Sini Anderson’s documentary on musician and feminist icon, Kathleen Hanna. The film charts Hanna’s rise to notoriety in the 1990s, and her sudden disappearance from public life in 2005. As the lead singer of punk band Bikini Kill and co-author of the Riot Grrrl manifesto, she was the often-reluctant public face of feminism’s third wave. Like all the best bands, Bikini Kill was formed out of art college by Hanna, Kathi Wilcox and Tobi Vail in 1990. When the band imploded in 1997, Hanna maintained a presence in the public consciousness, first through her solo first solo album, “Julie Ruin,” and subsequent work with Le Tigre, before disappearing from public life in 2005. Never shy of a soundbite, Hanna’s opinionated views on feminism were seminal for young fans and derided by critics.
Bikini Kill were spiritual contemporaries of Nirvana, but were forced to compete with the hyper-masculine Grunge scene that followed. At a time when there was still such a thing as a music press (or at least when people still read it), Hanna was a godsend. The band’s creed of “girls to the front, boys be cool” was a refreshing antidote to the male-dominated mosh pit.
Bikini Kill were often dismissed as polemic-spouting opportunists, unable to play their instruments, but the archival footage of The Punk Singer serves as a reminder of what an incendiary and vital live band they were. Using black marker, Hanna would routinely use her body as a billboard in live performances, covering it with misogynistic epithets.
Talking head interviews with rock icons such as Kim Gordon and Joan Jett sit alongside voices from Riot Grrrl contemporaries and Hanna herself. She is an honest and open interviewee, discussing her journey from Bikini Kill’s heyday, to the frustrating years of misdiagnosis of Lyme disease that forced her into an unwanted early retirement. She also acknowledges many of the contradictions inherent in her identity, such as how she rationalised her past as a stripper with her feminist ideology, or her marriage to erstwhile Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz, co-author of such feminist anthems as “Girls” (sample lyric: I asked her out, she said ‘no way,’ I shoulda probably guessed her gay”). In today’s world where the male-crafted sexual objectification of Miley Cyrus and Rhianna are considered as evidence of female empowerment by their young audience, intelligent, outspoken feminist role models like Hanna are sorely missed. She was an intellectual role model for many post-Generation X artists, but sadly, too few to make a difference.