The Punk Singer (2013)

The_Punk_Singer_logoRelease Year: 2013

Rating: 8.5/10

There’s a point where you watch so many documentaries they all look the same. You can practically recite the format by heart. That isn’t the case here. This film about Kathleen Hanna follows her music career from Bikini Kill to Le Tigre to her latest band The Julie Ruin. It also looks at how her illness and her feminist politics helped influence her music, making her an inspiration to millions of girls everywhere.

There’s no question Kathleen Hanna is an important figure for women in rock, especially in the punk scene she came from. The film doesn’t spend too much time on her childhood, which personally I enjoyed. Too many documentaries focus on a person’s childhood and after seeing so many films like this it gets tiring. Luckily, this one jumps to the beginnings of Bikini Kill and their struggle in the alternative scene. It’s no secret that Hanna is a feminist. She makes it clear she wanted those politics present in her music. While it sounds good, what this film does is open your eyes to what women in bands with a feminist message had to go through.

I think with a lot of the female artists out there today, a lot is taken for granted. One thing that really surprised me was Hanna’s “Girls to the front” rule. During the band’s shows Hanna would demand girls come to the front and the guys move back. As someone who goes to a lot of concerts this shocked me. Girls going to hard rock shows isn’t an anomaly now, but scenes like this give you insight on what it was like being female in this type of culture. There’s even footage of a fan saying she doesn’t want to go to anymore gigs because they’re too violent. Hanna was trying to prevent this while protecting herself at the same time. She openly talks about how men would send her messages saying she needs to die just because she never backed down. Some of the stories the band members share will disgust you and wonder why people are so hateful.

One thing I appreciated was their brief mention of Kurt Cobain. The only reason he’s mentioned at all is because he dated Tobi Veil of the band. Kathleen shares a short story where Cobain stuck up for her when no one else would believe her boyfriend was stalking her. Then it moves on. I point this out because I also watched the Patty Schemel film Hit So Hard and while it did have amazing rare footage of Cobain and Frances and Courtney, it was too much. There were moments where he became the sole focus of the film. Here, he gets a mentioned only because he’s associated with the band. Then it’s all about Hanna again, which is how it should be.

The most powerful scene in the movie is when she begins talking about her illness. A lot of people in her life who are in the film, did not know she had late stage Lyme disease. This ultimately caused her to quit music in 2005 even though she didn’t want to admit it. It’s moving because she talks about how she believed this was going to prevent her from making music, the thing she cared about the most. There’s even a point where she films herself having a bad reaction to the medication. She described it earlier, but seeing what she goes through will let you know exactly what the illness does to you. Of course she ends up making music again even though she thought she couldn’t, proving that nothing can hold her down.

Overall, the film gets 8.5/10. This is something fans of Bikini Kill and music in general must see. If you want to know more about the Riot Grrl scene, this a great film for it. It talks about the start of the scene and its main players. It provides a lot of great information on women in music and Hanna herself. Since she remains humble throughout, even though so many people who are interviewed are praising, it makes it easy to fall in love with her and she why she is an important figure in rock.


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