I was going to gush about Kathleen Hanna in the intro to this review but every time I read it back I sounded like a school girl, and I! Just! Wanted! To! End! Every! Sentence! With! An! Exclamation! Point!
You see what I’m working with here? Though I think, pondering it, that is exactly how one of the co-founders of the Riot Grrrl movement should make you feel. Empowered, excitable, unafraid to feel the way you feel!
I love her. I do. I didn’t find her soon enough in life but I found her and that’s the main thing. Obviously, it’s never too late to be a Riot Grrrl and I’m convinced there are 40,000 different ways to be a Riot Grrrl (if not more) – but I think I might have been a different woman had I grown up kicking life in the face with my DMs.
Anyway, this wonderful documentary tells Kathleen’s story and throws in a lot of information I didn’t know, which kept it fresh and interesting at all times. I was honestly as happy as a clam throughout – it made me laugh, cry and pump my fist on more than one occasion.
I will say this is our first documentary so far in our Blog Collab so I’m not sure how this is going to go. Could be rocky, could be as fluid as Bailey’s running through a peep toe stiletto, we shall see.
I guess you should be prepared for *Spoilers* as with any review, you know just in case.
The Punk Singer (2013)
IMDB Synopsis: A look at the life of activist, musician, and cultural icon Kathleen Hanna, who formed the punk band Bikini Kill and pioneered the “riot grrrl” movement of the 1990s.
So you think you know Kathleen Hanna? I’m pretty sure I knew only the bare bones and this documentary has padded them out, offering me insight into an incredible character, one who has taken her voice and used it to empower a whole generation (and then some) of women.
Taking pain and trauma and turning it outward, refusing to be silenced for a second, Hanna became the poster girl for feminism, which you can imagine came with its own price.
We open with Hanna at a spoken word competition. She’s reciting a piece about rape and we later learn a little bit more about what influenced that. Hanna herself has been a victim of sexual abuse but often refers to other women’s experiences as far worse than her own.
Hanna receives a piece of advice that sees her move from spoken word poetry to punk rock, and she forms Bikini Kill with her college mates.
Bikini Kill was a band that kicked, screamed and refused to go quietly. Hanna commanded her stage, shouting for the men in her audiences to move to the back so the women could come to the front. She sang about abuse, incest, patriarchy, sexuality; drawing from personal experience and that of her sisters.
She also coined the phrase “Smells like teen spirit” and was best friends with Kurt Cobain, the only person she could turn to when she was sexually harassed by a man (who else). Since she was fast becoming the very voice of feminism, she felt she couldn’t seek help for this situation and Kurt helped and believed in her.
Not wanting to ask for help seems to be common theme running throughout this documentary and comes back to Hanna around 2005, but after Bikini Kill she went at it alone as Julie Ruin, recording an entire album alone in her bedroom.
We cover the beginning of her romance with Adam Horovitz of The Beastie Boys, her activism and how that affects, and indeed fits in with the musical ideals of her now husband.
After Julie Ruin we move into Le Tigre territory and this is where I know Hanna best. I love love love Deceptacon. Alas, after a series of big successes and a world tour, Hanna starts to lose her voice and knows in her heart that something just isn’t right.
She eventually tells her band mates that she has nothing left to say and doesn’t want to do music anymore. She tells us now that that was all a lie.
For five years Hanna lives with an undiagnosed illness that turns out in the end to be Lyme disease. We witness footage of Adam caring for his wife and the side-effects of her medication as she fights the disease.
And the final act sees The Queen working on new material with The Julie Ruin and getting back into music, slowly but surely. Her way though, always.
No questions per se but why can’t Kathleen Hanna be my best friend?
I’m sorry this review isn’t better because I loved every moment of The Punk Singer. I’m just not that good and was distracted with my own raging thoughts of fucking the patriarchy while I watched. (Not literally).
The contrast between young, raging Hanna and her older, sicker self – both beautiful, both strong AF just in vastly different ways – is really something to consider. As usual it makes me think about strength and how is manifests itself in different ways for different people.
I’m not going to gush anymore but I am going to say that this is a brilliant piece of art and well worth a view.
I realise as well that I’ve failed to mention anybody else but all the interviews are great and it’s inspiring to hear so many women were inspired and went on to continue Hanna’s teachings.
What a fucking woman. Then and now.
My Rating: 5/5. Fucking perfect in all its imperfections, much like the woman herself.
What did wifey think? Let’s bust on over to her place and see.
NB: This is actually our second documentary. The first one was The Wolfpack.