The Punk Singer by Sini Anderson, released March 2013 (Cleveland got a new film relatively on time this year?!), is a documentary about a woman named Kathleen Hanna, whom no one can deny had an impact on American culture, and why she stopped making music.
I read one review of the movie before I saw it: Kathleen Hanna’s. Somewhere floating around on the Internet she admits she wishes the film about herself wasn’t so glowing. “But it wasn’t my movie, so it wasn’t my call,” she says in the Gawker interview. Interesting. So I went to see this film already in the mindset that someone just wanted make sure everyone knew what Kathleen Hanna was up to, and it made her look good. Cool, that is probably not a hard thing to do.
I discovered Le Tigre when I was 12. I spent my weekends looking for books and music in the library, and this was the first new sound I heard that did not bore me; in fact, it encouraged me and quite literally energized me. Lots of women my age have stories similar to this, and attribute either one or a combination of Bikini Kill, Kathleen Hannah, or the idea/society of Riot Grrl to changing their lives (or at the very least, after stumbling upon the bands or community, seeing positive ideas affirmed, ideas girls had for years and still were not expressed in such a direct way).
I was angry; I was into it.
Well, if you are one of us, this film probably let you down a bit. It was a history and a biography and an autobiography but full of facts that fans already know. Yep, she wrote the phrase “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Yep, she was a stripper and simultaneously the lead singer of one of the most influential punk bands of the nineties.
Carrie Brownstein repeats herself like a parrot because this scene has been so written about and documented and parodied the past couple of years, no one can say anything fresh about it, just emphasize the fact that yes: Bikini Kill totally kicked ass and a large part of it had to do with Kathleen.
Full of band mate and peer interviews and footage of the good ol’ days, The Punk Singer was not a bad movie, nor boring.
It was simply an archive of stories with a very public admission from a niche heroine that she suffers from Lyme disease, information she had already divulged in the Gawker interview. You can glean just as much about Kathleen’s thoughts from her talk with Rich Juzwiak in November as you can from this documentary.
Hanna discusses her illness briefly, and does not enlighten us on what Lyme disease really is, but the audience gets the point that it is serious enough to have stopped her from practicing her esteemed art. As someone else who suffers from chronic illness, I see this as a way to prove that she will not let Lyme disease define her. She is Julie Ruin, and she was lying when she said she was done.
The film ended on a hopeful note: that we still might be able to see her perform one day. Even though her work is discussed in Women’s Studies classes and her lyrics are tattooed on many a lady, I have yet to attend a show where the band made sure to yell at all of the men who are pushing all of the women to the back.
For all that the third-wave brought for us, I am beginning to think we have lost the ideals and kept the idols. Do we need their presence to instill a sense of unity? From all of us who spent our teenage years screaming “Deceptacon” at parties and “Keep on Living” in the shower, we hope you feel well enough to tour soon, Kathleen. Of course this film was glowing, anyone who has followed her work knows she is inarguably incandescent.