FILM REVIEW | THE PUNK SINGER
photo manipulation by nacrowe
released at time in her career when she was in between projects and hadn't toured or been seen in public for years as she privately sough a diagnosis for what she later learned to be late stage LYME DISEASE, THE PUNK SINGER (LONG SHOT FACTORY, 2013) is a documentary about the career and cultural impact of BIKINI KILL / LE TIGRE / THE JULIE RUIN frontwoman and RIOT GRRRL founder KATHLEEN HANNA.
in essence her greatest contribution to popular culture is the empowerment of a whole generation of girls and young women in the 1990s. her confrontational lyrics and fierce outspoken political manifestos place her in the vanguard of what PUNK ROCK is all about. in fact, i'd argue BIKINI KILL exceeded the label, pushing their listeners to organize themselves and start RIOT GRRRL support structures in their own communities and empower each other. totally DIY. absolutely grassroots.
that aspect of her influence is their in spades in the film as it goddamn well should be. in my mind she is a revolutionary figure. what made this documentary interesting beyond that is how she transcended her cult status and pursued her private life without being boxed in by her own supporters. its not unlike the premise from MONTY PYTHON'S LIFE OF BRIAN (HANDMADE FILMS, 1979), where leaders have to fight an image and new cultural paradigm that they created. well, partly created. the media has a bottom line it has to uphold and only looks for the sensationalist aspects of narrative that it wants to promote. uplifting consciousness of both women and men is not a selling point for the corporate ogre. her frustrations with her presentation on a national stage that are beyond her control are well founded by expected. the media is a circus mirror side act on the best of days.
i dont want to make too much of this but i think that just as courageous as her creative work is her ability to pursue a relationship with ADAM HOROVITZ of the BEASTIE BOYS (whose LICENSED TO ILL album is famously juvenile and retrograde in terms of gender politics) because it speaks to how we dont choose who we fall in love with. in his defense, the BEASTIE BOYS quickly dumped that shtick and sought inclusiveness and championed issues of global awareness throughout the rest of their career. if anything they were a conscientious band that had a definite evolution and you can see in this film how HANNA's influence guided them along a route they had already chosen.
i thin also just coming out and being an advocate for those suffering with LYME DISEASE is incredibly powerful and empowering. i know people that find her preachy and maybe even a bit naive, but i wish we had more artists like her right now. i'm glad she is out there doing her thing, or teaching classes at NYU or working on art and solo projects, or continuing the fight against patriarchy. god bless her.
i should also mention that a whole cadre of female musicians, artists and writers were interviewed for this film including JOAN JETT, KIM GORDON (SONIC YOUTH, BODY/HEAD), ALLISON WOLFE (BRATMOBILE), LYNN BREEDLOVE (TRIBE 8), CORIN TUCKER (HEAVENS TO BETSY, SLEATER-KINNEY), CARRIE BROWNSTEIN (SLEATER-KINNEY) and BECCA ALBEE (EXCUSE 17) as well as BIKINI KILL bandmates TOBI VAIL and KATHI WILCOX, LE TIGRE bandmates JOHANNA FATEMAN and JD SAMSON, photographer TAMMY RAE CARLAND, director TAMRA DAVIS and writers SARA MARCUS, JENNIFER BAUMGARDENER and TAVI GEVINSON.
if you are a fan of PUNK ROCK or revolutionary movements in general, this is definitely required viewing. HANNA is a national treasure.
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