The Punk Singer

Long live Kathleen Hanna

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Sini Anderson’s razor-sharp The Punk Singer profiles the career and impact of Kathleen Hanna, a feminist rock icon (via bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre) who abruptly dropped from view in 2005. This exciting assemblage of archival and interview materials recalls the considerable influence (and sometime public trivialization) of the 1990s Riot Grrrl movement while showcasing the role of its cofounder and most charismatic leader.

Leaving behind a problematic family background, Hanna arrived as a freshman at Evergreen College in Olympia, Wash., and almost immediately began shaking things up in the local artistic and feminist communities. Initially focused on spoken-word performance as her outlet, she took the advice of experimental-fiction writing idol Kathy Acker and started a band as a means of reaching a wider audience.

In 1991, various circumstances—the scorn heaped upon Anita Hill’s sexual-harassment allegations against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas; Christian Coalition attacks on legal abortion; and the pervasively testosterone-driven, often violent atmosphere at punk music shows—provided an ideal incubator for the activist, angry-yet-positive energy of Riot Grrrl bands, zines and other endeavors. Hanna’s band, Bikini Kill, became the movement’s flagship, her distinctive voice, stage intensity and thematically punchy songs inspiring many while also ticking off more than a few boys’ club punks. (The band demanded that women be allowed up front near the stage, and that male patrons refrain from rough-housing mosh-pit behavior.)

Once the Riot Grrrl movement captured national press attention that tended to focus on invasive personal rather than political or artistic aspects—like Hanna’s brief past tenure working at a strip club—she simply called for a “media blackout” and refused to be interviewed further. The heavy scrutiny Bikini Kill endured while its members still lived hand-to-mouth took a toll.

After they broke up in 1997, Hanna made a solo record under the pseudonym “Julie Ruin,” then formed “feminist party band” Le Tigre, which reframed serious topics as danceable electronic music, complete with multimedia live presentation and even ensemble dance moves. Despite (or because of) their relative high-profile success, however, Hanna called it quits in 2005, saying she had “nothing left to say” in music. In fact she was in denial that her body was forcing her to quit; she’d contracted Lyme disease, which, due to poor initial treatment, had become seriously debilitating over the years. The documentary ends with her finally recommencing her musical activities, however.

Dynamic performance footage and input from a variety of collaborators, colleagues and admirers, as well as Hanna herself, make the tightly edited Punk Singer a vivid watch even for those with no interest in or experience with the music itself.

SVCR Innings
More Film...
Citizen Jane
Battle for the City

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, directed by the gifted journalist and documentarian Matt Tyrnauer (Valentino: The Last Emperor), tells the story of a David-and-Goliath fight over urban planning that took place more than 50 years ago. Yet the movie just about pulses with contemporary…

more »
Mysterious Sci-Fi Cinema
A Film Is Truth fundraiser

Because I was raised by fascists who lived to persecute me (Hi, mom and dad!), I didn’t (read: wasn’t allowed) to watch much television when I was growing up. For years, the only thing I knew of popular programs came from the chatter of my friends—chatter I was sadly excluded from.…

more »
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Long live Baby Groot!

The word “Marvel,” as in comic books or movie studios, has become a foundational term of our culture. Yet you could sit through almost every one of today’s comic-book movies and not find a whole lot to marvel at. That’s where Guardians of the Galaxy came in. In an era of…

more »
Nutrition for Fertility

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Swing Dance

8:00pm|Eagles Hall


8:00pm|Bellingham Public Library


9:30pm|Green Frog

Lester and Hyldahl
All-Paces Run

6:00pm|Fairhaven Runners

Downtown Walk with WNPS

6:00pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Bellingham Reads

6:30pm|Bellingham Public Library

Audubon Talk

7:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall


7:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

University Choir

7:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Books on Tap

7:00pm|Maggie's Pub

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Northwood Steak and Crab
Ski to Sea Book Sale

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

Spring Tea

2:00pm|Lynden Community Center

Blaine Marina Tour

2:00pm|Blaine Marina

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market Opening

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Brewers Cruise Kickoff

6:30pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Just Halibut

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Thomas Marriott Quartet

7:00pm|Unity Spiritual Center

Panty Hoes

9:00pm|Rumors Cabaret

see our complete calendar »

Village Books Bellingham Farmer’s Market Trove Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Lester and Hyldahl Northwood Steak and Crab