Film Review – The Punk Singer (2013)

‘Girls to the front’ it’s revolution Riot Grrrl style as Sini Anderson‘s powerful razor sharp documentary The Punk Singer delivers the spirit of the Riot Grrrl movement and the feminist role model Kathleen Hanna. The question many people are asking what actually happen to Kathleen after 2006? It’s a question The Punk Singer attempts to answer whilst paying tribute to one of the most intriguing figures in rock and one of the movements founding figures.

The Punk Singer is a perfect example of a crowdfunded /Kickstarter project done properly, capturing the DIY ethos and the spirit, the positivity of empowerment but never conforming to anyone.Kathleen Hanna was the force behind Bikini Kill before re-inventing herself into the disco lo-fi punks Le Tigre but the question is what happened next?

The Punk Singer at times may overdo it on references on people lining up to praise or acknowledge   however, you cannot deny Hanna is an extraordinary woman. She fights passionately in what she believes in, equality for girls and women in a musical genre (Punk Rock) that has been plagued by violence, sexism for a long time. Time to reclaim the floor, empower yourself, start a band or even start a zine.

Some may question the lack of male voices in The Punk Singer but to understand and appreciate  the film, Riot Grrrl which is a collective force for feminism (Third Wave) formed 1990’s Olympia, Washington D.C area (Hanna’s Hometown). It was a voice for the right to dance safely at shows, a voice in the male dominated scene but most of all never be ashamed of who you are or what you believed in personally and politically.Hanna is  a great advocate of this especially as she has had first hand experience.

In The Punk Singer Hanna isn’t portrayed as any type of icon nor Rock Goddess but a positive role model for young women in an era of ‘unease and tension’. Anderson has created a film that lets Hanna’s friends, fellow activists recount her tireless work within Riot Grrrl, her constant battles with those who despised her ‘tell them as it is’ attitude. It made her a sacrificial target for mainstream media and those who didn’t understand her philosophy or attempt to pigeonhole her.

Of all the men who do appear in The Punk Singer it’s Hanna’s husband, Beastie Boys Adam Horovitz who recalls the finer moments of how they met, his first experience of Bikini Kill and Julie Ruin (Hanna’s personal lo-fi project). How ironic that the woman whose behind the Riot Grrrl movement   marries a man whose band had a song called ‘Girls’. You’ll see it was love at first sight and nothing was going to stop them, not even Hanna’s ski-mask (Hanna’s media blackout protest from the 1990s).

The true power of Anderson’s film hits you when   we finally learn why Kathleen Hanna disappeared of the face of the earth in 2006, been diagnosed with debilitating Lyme’s Disease. It’s not an uncommon disease but when it’s late diagnosed when we see someone like Hanna the pain is indescribable, a person whose strong willed, determined, it’s heartbreaking and moving to see. She reminds of a female version of David Bowie, Iggy Pop someone who’ll until her last breath, empowering her beliefs, and reinventing herself when things get stale.From the chaotic rock days of Bikini Girl to dance punks Le Tigre to personal Julie Ruin. The impact of Hanna’s inspiration when she attends a New York gig, a tribute night of bands playing her music.

The Punk Singer not only captures the importance of Punk role model but her battles, struggles that Hanna was up against, the politics, sexism and the awareness of Lyme Disease. This is an empowering piece of film making that enlightens the DIY ethos with great sincerity and power, a inspirational film. So ‘Girls to the front’ it’s time to rock!

Paul Devine |★★★★★

Biography, Documentary, Music | USA, 2013 | 15 | 23rd June 2014 (UK) | Dir: Sini Anderson | Kathleen Hanna, Carrie Brownstein, Kim Gordon, Adam Horovitz
Buy:The Punk Singer [DVD]

Originally Posted at The Peoples Movies 21st June 2014

One response to “Film Review – The Punk Singer (2013)”

  1. […] 2013 documentary based on Kathleen Hanna, the feminist activist lead singer for Bikini Kill who is seen as one of the leading figures of the riot girl movement. Directed by Sini Anderson. A fantastic insight into Kathleen’s life. from her troubled upbringing and her start in spoken word performance poetry, through her riot grrrl zines, her prominent punk and dance-punk bands, her coining of the phrase “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for Kurt Cobain, her solo career as Julie Ruin, her feminist activism, her marriage to Beastie Boys member Adam Horovitz, and ending with Hanna’s 2010 diagnosis of late-stage Lyme disease and the severe treatments she endures to combat it. Impressively empowering film. […]


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