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Originally published December 5, 2013 at 3:07 PM | Page modified December 5, 2013 at 3:47 PM

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‘The Punk Singer’: a riotous look at Kathleen Hanna

Director Sini Anderson’s documentary “The Punk Singer” chronicles Kathleen Hanna’s rise from spoken-word poet to feminist icon by way of her bands Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and the Julie Ruin.


Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review 3.5 stars

‘The Punk Singer,’ a documentary directed by Sini Anderson. 80 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. SIFF Cinema at the Film Center.

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Director Sini Anderson’s inspiring documentary, “The Punk Singer,” opens with a spoken-word performance at The Evergreen State College in Olympia by Kathleen Hanna, in which the riot-grrrl pioneer speaks publicly about dealing with abuse in her life. “I am your worst nightmare come to life / I’m the girl you can’t shut up / There’s not a guy big enough to handle this mouth.” It’s a powerful scene that shows just how valiant and determined Hanna is to speak her mind in order to effect change.

The documentary chronicles the Portland-born singer’s rise from spoken-word poet to feminist icon by way of her bands Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and the Julie Ruin. It’s a fascinating documentary with commentary from Kim Gordon, Joan Jett, Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Hanna’s husband (and Beastie Boy) Adam Horovitz.

Through first-person interviews and a plethora of amazing live footage of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, Anderson is able to tell Hanna’s story and highlight her cause to reinvent feminism through punk music, DIY fanzines and outreach to other women.

The film shows what a heroic warrior Hanna is onstage by using footage of her chastising the men in her audience for being too violent: “Girls to the front, men to the back. For once in your life be cool.” That she does it while dressed in a skimpy outfit and “slut” written across her bare midriff illustrates what Hanna stands for: women being in control of their own bodies on their own terms. It’s both an inspiring and empowering scene.

Hanna is also shown to be vulnerable and candid, revealing that it was late-stage Lyme disease that forced her to walk away from her career in music in 2005.

In another revealing moment, Hanna discusses her struggles with falling in love with Horovitz, whom she is now married to. “I was dating somebody who wrote ‘Girls, girls, girls to do my laundry.’ What does it mean that I am a feminist artist and I’m dating this person and I’m so in love with him?”

“The Punk Singer” is a revealing look at Hanna’s life, who throughout the film is willing to speak out about her struggles and triumphs in an open and honest way.

Jeff Albertson: jalbertson@seattletimes.com



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