“The Punk Singer” Proves Kathleen Hanna Is Invincible

This week I was honored to attend a screening of The Punk Singer, Sini Anderson’s much-anticipated documentary about the life, career and legacy of Kathleen Hanna. The first thing I learned was that Kathleen Hanna can do literally anything – it opens with scenes of her performing spoken word, and goes on to describe how she went on to form some of the most influential girl bands in history, help start a nationwide zine movement and inspire an entire generation of young women to become proud feminists.  The film spends a great deal of focus on the origins of Bikini Kill and the evolution of Kathleen Hanna’s artistic expression, peppered occasionally with adorable interview excerpts from the likes of Joan Jett, Kim Gordon, Tavi Gevinson, bandmates Kathi Wilcox, Tobi Vail, JD Samson and Johanna Fateman, and her husband Adam Horovitz.

Over the course of the movie, we learn a great deal about the origins of the Riot Grrrl movement, the dynamics of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, and the debilitating mystery illness that threatened to end Hanna’s career (she was recently diagnosed with late stage Lyme Disease). What was most refreshing, though, was getting to see sides of Hanna’s personality that aren’t always immediately apparent from interviews and stage banter – the funny, charming, self-effacing woman who was uncomfortable with the attention that came with being a frontwoman, but who fought constantly to be taken seriously as an artist, and who is still coming to terms with the impact she’s made and continues to make on the modern feminist movement.

Also, being Best Person In The World probably didn't hurt.

Also, being Best Person In The World probably didn’t hurt.

After the credits rolled, Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead and Kathleen Hanna hosted a brief Q&A with the audience, who asked about everything from her abiding love for Kathy Acker to substance abuse to reconciling her feminism with being married to a dude. Although she seemed a bit uncomfortable with all the attention (“I’ve been doing all this press for a movie I didn’t even make!”), she expressed excitement about the improvements in her health which are finally making it possible for her to record, perform and express herself the way she wants to.

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Kathleen’s new band The Julie Ruin’s new record Run Fast is available now, and The Punk Singer is available on iTunes and/or screening in the following places:

12/6 Criterion Cinemas New Haven CT
12/6 Gateway Film Center Columbus OH
12/6 Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park Houston TX
12/6 Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane Austin TX
12/6 Brattle Theater Cambridge MA
12/6 Cable Car Providence RI
12/6 Roxie Theater San Francisco CA
12/6 SIFF Film Center Seattle WA
12/6 Pickford Film Center Bellingham WA
12/6 Hollywood Theatre Portland OR
12/6 Market Street Little Rock AR
12/6 Plaza Theatre Atlanta GA
12/6 Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers Yonkers NY
12/6 Digital Gym San Diego CA
12/6 The Screen Santa Fe NM
12/9 Zinema Duluth MN
12/10 Apollo Theatre Oberlin OH
12/11 Space Gallery Portland ME
12/11 Trylon Microcinema Minneapolis MN
12/13 Osio Plaza Cinema Monterey CA
12/13 West End Cinema Washington DC DC
12/13 Capitol Theatre Olympia WA
12/13 Cinema Detroit Detroit MI
12/13 Cinemas Palme D’Or Palm Desert CA
12/13 FilmBar Phoenix AZ
12/13 Kiggins Theater Vancouver WA
12/13 Music Box Chicago IL
12/13 Roxy Theater Missoula MT
12/13 Liberty Theatre Camas WA
12/13 Criterion Cinemas at Movieland Richmond VA
12/13 Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center New Orleans LA
12/17 Capitol Theatre Cleveland OH
12/20 Alamo Drafthouse – Mainstreet Kansas City MO
12/20 Texas Theatre Oak Cliff TX
12/26 SIE Film Center Denver CO
12/26 Bear Tooth Theatre Anchorage AK
12/27 Aperture Cinema Winston-Salem NC
12/27 The Picture House Pelham NY
1/3 Bijou Metro Eugene OR
1/8 Belcourt Theatre Nashville TN
1/17 Pittsburgh Filmmakers @ Melwood Screening Rm Pittsburgh PA
1/24 Circle Cinema Tulsa OK
1/24 Hippodrome Theatre Gainesville FL
1/25 Barking Legs Theater Chattanooga TN
1/29 Union Theatre @ U Milwaukee Milwaukee WI
2/21 Putnam Lecture Hall Keene NH

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Stef Schwartz is the Music Editor at Autostraddle.com. She's a rock'n'roll jack-of-all-trades, vegan crusader and legit professional weirdo. She lives with her cat Scully in the wilds of Los Angeles, where she writes terrible dance music, drinks quality bourbon and misses New York City. Follow her on twitter.

Stef has written 96 articles for us.

18 Comments

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    I read a book called Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution, which just made me love Kathleen Hanna even more than I’d thought possible and made me lament once again that I was a little too young to take part in Riot Grrrl while it was happening.

    I’ve been looking forward to this film since I’d heard it was a thing and I’m so excited that I can “rent” it from Amazon and support Autostraddle at the same time! As soon as I’m done with my Kingdom of Loathing adventures for the night, I’m there!

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      yes! one of the things i LOVED about this movie was the part it dedicated to how bikini kill would make all the moshing dudes move back and let all the girls come up to the front of the stage – it seems like such a basic thing, but when mosh pits were a really active, vital thing to shows, it really wasn’t. girls could get hurt really easily by giant dudes beating the shit out of each other, and bikini kill didn’t let any of that unnecessarily violent shit go down. i used to love a good pit, but never loved getting knocked out of my spot by some overly zealous dude twice my size.
      i also miss when people moved around a lot at shows and didn’t stand around instagramming and checking their hair, but that is another story for another day.

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        Yeah, the “girls to the front” thing really struck me too. I’ve always wondered if my experiences at shows would have been much different if I’d been to shows where something like that happened. I’m so fucking short, though, if most people raise their arms at all even if they’re not being violent or aggressive, their elbows are going to end up in my face region! XD

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      That’s a great book! I too was right on the heels of the riot grrrl movement (being too little but hey we had Sassy magazine at least). I’ve only seen Kathleen Hanna perform in Le Tigre. She has such a gigantic presence. I feel all giddy and awestruck in her presence – she’s a smart, smart-ass, angry, screaming buddha lady that will hopefully create more art and inspire a whole new generation(s).

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      she said… she loves her husband immensely, and that she really wanted to hold out to get married until marriage was something that everyone could have (but that they ended up marrying so she could get on his health insurance when le tigre ended), that she doesn’t think of her marriage in terms of being punk or not, that being married didn’t change her into just “someone’s wife.” she didn’t mention the fact that feminist men like, exist, but i think that def came through in the film; adam seems like a genuinely great dude who maybe wrote a pretty sexist song when he was like 20.

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        The Beastie Boys have actually genuinely apologized for that song and also for some homophobic lyrics in an early song, then gone on to devote themselves to promoting progressive ideas. Everyone does stupid shit, the most we can ask from people is that they realize the hurt they cause, apologize and change their ways. And the Beasties did, so they’re good in my book.

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    I just saw it tonight! Having read a ton of Riot Grrl history, I was wondering what angle the film makers would take. I thought the film did a great job of portraying KH as an artist and leader of a movement and total badass. The performance footage was sooooooo gooooooood! Also, I had read about the late-stage Lyme disease stuff on her blog, but it was so much more visceral seeing her going through procedures on the screen.

    Midway through the film I found myself in a reverie where Kim Gordon and Tamra Davis are my moms and that they navigate me through indie rock dating scenes. It was super-comforting.

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      how amazing was that crazy van full of christmas lights and plaid blankets that they kept interviewing kim gordon and joan jett in? i have so many questions about those interviews.

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