She is woman — hear her rock!
Pioneering “riot grrrl” musician Kathleen Hanna is the subject of Brooklyn filmmaker Sini Anderson’s latest documentary, “The Punk Singer,” which opens at Nighthawk Cinema on Nov. 29. The film highlights Hanna’s legacy in the history of feminist punk rock and reveals private snippets of her personal life — both triumphs and tragedies.
“With more than 20 years of work behind her, Kathleen’s story is more than a single film can hope to capture, and more than I alone can hope to convey in 90 minutes or less,” said Anderson.
Both entertaining and informative, “The Punk Singer” chronicles the feminist movement in the United States and the formative years of the riot grrrl punk-rock genre. Hanna, the lead singer of Washington band Bikini Kill in the ’90s and later New York-based electroclash outfit Le Tigre, was a forerunner in these entwined worlds. The film credits the creation of this underground feminist punk with helping spark the third-wave of feminism.
“Kathleen is a cultural icon — the biggest influence on my generation of feminist artists,” said Anderson. “The responsibility involved in telling her story is not lost on me.”
Hanna, who is known for shocking listeners with her piercing voice, first delved into music in order to be a voice for the voiceless. She wrote songs that addressed leftist politics, human rights, and hushed-up topics such as sexual abuse.
“The Punk Singer” plays as a declaration of gratitude to Hanna for standing up as a role model for women. It was not always easy — Hanna received just as much hate mail as she did acclaim.
“Even the hardiest leader could use a little encouragement,” said Anderson.
Interviews with myriad famous faces are interspersed throughout the documentary. Notable artists such as Carrie Brownstein and Kurt Cobain speak as Hanna’s friends, while Adam Horowitz of the Beastie Boys shares intimate stories as her spouse. But most of the interviewees are Hanna’s fellow riot grrrls.
“I realized how female her story is,” said Anderson. “With few exceptions, all of Kathleen’s collaborators have been women, which is perhaps why her life and works resonate so much with women.”
A pivotal moment in the documentary unveils the real reason why Hanna dropped out of the music scene for five years in 2005 — a previously unreported battle with Lyme disease. The exposé explains, but does not apologize for her past. But the ending shows how even the toughest punk amongst us can still face extraordinary battles.
“The Punk Singer” at Nitehawk Cinema [136 Metropolitan Ave, (718) 384-3980, www.nitehawkcinema.com]. Opens Nov. 29, $11.