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punk singer - posterThe Punk Singer leads us on an odyssey of all things Kathleen Hanna. Hanna is widely renowned as the former frontwoman of the massively influential bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre and feminist icon, who also wrote the Riot Grrrl Manifesto spawning a huge movement in punk rock in the 1990s while fronting Bikini Kill.  Director Sini Anderson allows Hanna to tell us her story point blank and without a filter, one of her many fantastic qualities. We get a glimpse of her transformation from her youth (where we learn she was abused by her father), to her somewhat surprising job as a stripper to help make ends meet while fronting bands, to becoming the voice for women in rock that many had waited for since the days of Patti Smith. Flush with testimonies of the power, charisma and influence Hanna has wielded by rock luminaries such as Joan Jett (The Runaways, Evil Stig), Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth), Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney, Wild Flag), Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney, Corin Tucker Band) as well as many former bandmates and friends, The Punk Singer does a fantastic job of painting the picture of who Kathleen is and what she has stood for, both in the realm of rock as well as the rights of women.

Kathleen Hanna

The inimitable Kathleen Hanna.

When her band Le Tigre broke up somewhat unexpectedly in 2006, Kathleen was hiding something, although unsure of what it was. Her health had been causing her troubles when they were touring so she decided to stop and get on top of it. This film serves as the her declaration that she has Lyme Disease (gotten from a tick bite). Near the end of the film, the tone shifts settling in on her battle with the disease, fresh with home film shot by her husband Adam Horovitz (Ad Rock from The Beastie Boys) of her dealing with the terrors of the disease and the drugs used to treat it. Perhaps the best thing to come from her struggles was her return to music with her newly formed band, The Julie Ruin (a riff off of a solo album she did under the name Julie Ruin), who just released their first album, Run Fast, this September.

Kathleen circa 1996

Kathleen circa 1996

I hate to say this, but I pretty much ignored the Riot Grrrl phenomenon when it happened. Too busy being a midwestern college boy, Bikini Kill and bands of the like just didn’t fall onto my radar. Lucky for me, I found their music a little later. Hanna is an extremely charismatic person and is most certainly deserving of a documentary unto herself. My interest in her beyond the music was certainly piqued by Kerthy Fix‘s equally fantastic and interesting Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on TourHanna and her bandmates made music their way and in a way that represented who they were as women confronting issues that affected them every day. We don’t see much in the way of political rock these days, which is a shame since I believe that’s when it is most affective. This is a film that is expertly crafted with archival footage dating all the way back to when Hanna did pre-band spoken word interspersed with her interviews (as well as those of other people) which really sheds light on her metamorphosis from teenager to rock/feminist legend. It’s a fascinating journey and one I would urge all people to see even if you’ve never heard the music before. Who knows, you may just find yourself a fan of it.

Here’s the trailer: