Female Filmmaker Friday: The Punk Singer, 2013 (dir. Sini Anderson)

For this week’s Female Filmmaker Friday, I’m actually going to write a bit about my favorite film from 2013: Sini Anderson’s The Punk Singer, which is a documentary about musician and activist Kathleen Hanna. The film just got released on DVD this week and is also available on Netflix, so you should spend the next 80 minutes watching it and then go out and change the world.

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Going into this movie I really didn’t know much about Kathleen Hanna, her music or the riot grrrl scene. I knew of it, but I didn’t know about it. But the trailer for this film was so damn good, I decided to go. What happened in the theater while I watched it can only really be called an epiphany. So much of what I was feeling and thinking and trying to express, were expressed so eloquently in this film.

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It traces Hanna’s life,starting with her college days at Evergreen State College in Olympia Washington, where she began her feminist art while studying the likes of Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger.

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The film features pieces of Hanna’s original works (above), as well as old video footage of her early days doing spoken word poetry, a feminist fashion show she put on when she was 18 and more. You hear the stories behind her growth as an artist from Hanna herself, but you also her about her impact on those around her from her friends and other members of the feminist and/or punk scene at the time. You also hear about her impact on Kurt Cobain and the song “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

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Like I said, I didn’t know much about riot grrrl before watching this film, but it gives you a nice primer from which you can learn a lot more about the movement. There’s interviews with Sara Marcus, whose book Girls To The Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution, I intend to purchase.

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There’s also a brief primer on the waves of feminism for those who need a refresher (or never knew what they were). This part makes me wonder if where we are now really is part of Third Wave Feminism, of if the posited Fourth Wave Feminism would a more accurate term for my generation. I think some of things Hanna was fighting for or dreams she had (connecting all the girls bedrooms, so we can share our secrets together has certainly happened thanks to the magic of Tumblr and Skype, etc.) had happened, and some we’re still fighting (dammit, stop slut shaming!).

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I particularly like the way this doc handles Hanna’s courtship and eventual marriage to Adam Horovitz of The Beastie Boys. I think it’s a pretty honest look at how sometimes you just love who you love, but also that being with the right people can help you be a better person. The way Horovitz talks about her in his interviews (he’s practically the only man in the entire film), is so tender and sincere; if only Hollywood could get this kind of passion in their love stories!

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The film also covers her various musical acts, from Bikini Kill to her solo record Julie Ruin to Le Tigre, to her comeback as The Julie Ruin. I think often we take for granted that musicians are artists, and artists generally experiment and change and try different things in order to express what they truly have in them to say.

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This is such a positive film. It’s about friendships and relationships and the idea of non-competition. It’s wonderful to see the impact you can have on others’ lives and how they impact you. Community is so important for survival.

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This film is a very tight 80 minutes and packs a lot of information, ideas, interviews, archive footage. It’s definitely not the end of any of these stories, but rather a jumping off point and a call to arms to all the young feminists (women, men, trans*) to be vocal and to not give up the good fight.

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Lastly, it delves into why Hanna stopped performing in 2005. This section of the film is really heartbreaking and raw. But, again, it’s also a testament to Hanna’s strength and the strength of anyone living with a prolonged disease.

Really, I can’t recommend this film enough. It’s a perfect blend of archival footage, interviews, anger, art, strength, knowledge, passion, compassion, love and intelligence. Like I said, it’s on Netflix, it’s 80 minutes, it will change your life.


About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on March 28, 2014, in Female Filmmaker Friday and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Great documentary. I didn’t know much about her either but what a life she has lead so far. This doc hit me on many levels and you touched on all of them. Very inspiring!

  2. I saw this on Netflix. A good documentary and a nice primer for the artist’s work. You sum it up well.

  1. Pingback: Female Filmmaker Friday | omen faces


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