May 22, 2014 3:25 pm

The Punk Singer – film review

A vivid documentary portrait of American feminist musician Kathleen Hanna
Kathleen Hanna in 'The Punk Singer'©Pat Smear

Kathleen Hanna in 'The Punk Singer'

An unexpected burst of jiving may greet this vivid documentary portrait of American feminist musician Kathleen Hanna. Initially held together by grainy VHS footage and cuttings from old fanzines, the film is gifted with a protagonist of endless brio and a cultural backdrop just distant enough to feel forgotten. Hanna was born to the stage, and her first flowering came in the 1990s as singer and lyricist of the mostly female Bikini Kill. The tour van left awed, inspired young women at every stop. “All girls to the front,” Hanna implored at concerts, and to the front they went. There’s an outdoor show in earshot of the White House, a cameo in the sad saga of Kurt Cobain, a later reinvention making politically savvy electro-pop.

Now as then she’s honest about her own contradictions, a feminist theorist who speaks in Valley Girl uptalk. Even those whose youths didn’t involve Letraset and cheap guitars will find it hard not to root for her. It’s a minor drag that director Sini Anderson’s default approach is fannish incuriosity – a crying shame that Hanna now struggles with ill-health. It seems too small a foe for her.


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