Friday, December 13, 2013

Review: The Punk Singer

Release date: December 13, 2013
Running time: 80 minutes
Starring: Kathleen Hanna, Carrie Brownstein, Kim Gordon
Who to see it with: Anyone who wants to see a movie about a strong female figure


The Punk Singer tells the story of Kathleen Hanna, the lead singer and front woman for the punk band Bikini Kill, the synth pop / rock band Le Tigre, and some other smaller projects. Hanna was also an early, and vocal, voice in the so-called 3rd wave of the feminist movement, which began around 1990. Hanna pioneered the "riot grrrl" movement and provided a visible, no holds barred icon for young feminists to look up. Hanna's story is so intertwined with the feminist movement that it is tough to tell one story without the other. And although it makes sense that a documentary about her life would have these threads woven together, I was surprised by just how seamlessly The Punk Singer accomplished this feat.

I went into this film knowing nothing about Hanna, her bands, or the movement that she helped pioneer. Thankfully, the documentary does a good job of laying the groundwork around Hanna and progressing her story in a logical, temporal manner. It starts with her early artistic experiments, her emergence in the Washington (state) and feminist punk scene, and how she became a powerful voice in those areas. The story is told mostly through interviews from various personalities in the music scene, the feminist scene, and from Hanna herself. It's well done and I especially liked the touch of some of the musical artists being interviewed in what looked like a tour van. As expected from a documentary about a prolific musical talent, her songs are featured throughout the film. The music is a great addition and I especially enjoyed hearing her musical progression and how that related to events in her own life. The footage is interesting with a lot of old, archival footage and videos from various concerts. But most importantly, Hanna has an interesting story and one that should be told. The Punk Singer tells the story of an influential and controversial woman in both the punk and feminist movements. It is an entertaining and energetic documentary that mirrors the personality that it is chronicling. 

Watch it.

PS - I was a little surprised by the trailer for this film. It has a large segment about Nirvana front man, Kurt Cobain, but he is barely mentioned in the film. I know that he was put in there to try and drive interest, but I was disappointed that the production company, in advertising a documentary about an influential feminist, resorted to trying to use a famous male singer to drum up interest. 

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