Like a fanzine come to life, "The Punk Singer," directed by Sini Anderson, is a tender and totally absorbing documentary portrait of Kathleen Hanna—beloved riot grrrl frontwoman of the bands Bikini Kill, The Julie Ruin and Le Tigre.
The film is brimming with expertly edited archival footage and behind-the-scenes glimpses of Hanna’s private life. Viewers not only get to watch her find her voice in the feminist art-punk scene of the early ’90s, but also bear witness to how she dealt with the misogynist backlash that ensued. Hanna narrates much of the story in a series of candid interviews and intimate vérité scenes, some of which she shot herself.
BUST gets a shout-out during an audio clip of an interview Gloria Steinem did with Hanna back in 2001. Carrie Brownstein, Tavi Gevinson, Joan Jett, and Kim Gordon provide additional analysis of Hanna’s story, sharing endearing and sometimes infuriating anecdotes—like the media’s offensive response to Bikini Kill’s 1991 pro-choice rally show (which led to the band doing a total press blackout). The movie also features a history lesson by Jennifer Baumgardner and Rebecca Walker on the different waves of feminism, which should propel this doc onto every Women’s Studies syllabus next year.
Photo by Allison Michael Orenstein
The most moving scenes focus on Hanna’s relationship with her husband, Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz, especially when he’s by her side as she returns to the stage with her band, The Julie Ruin, after a debilitating illness. More than a fluffy biography, this film is a provocative story about resilience, the feminist movement, and how far we still have to go. –anna bean