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Critics' Pick The Punk Singer

Movie Details

The Punk Singer
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Release Date: 2013-11-29 NY
  • Running Time: 80 min.
  • Director: Sini Anderson
  • Cast: Joan Jett, Kathleen Hanna
  • Distributor: IFC Films
  • Official Site: The Punk Singer Official Site

"I'm so sorry if I'm alienating some of you/Your whole fucking culture alienates me," belted Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna in "White Boy." What's still striking isn't just the lyrics -- it's Hanna's entire presence. Sini Anderson, director of the new doc The Punk Singer, had access to reels of Bikini Kill concerts, and even better than hearing talking heads like Joan Jett and Kim Gordon gush about Hanna's influence or the riot grrrl movement is simply watching her perform. On stage, she veered from blunt -- say, scrawling "slut" on her stomach -- to boldly feminine. Instead of shunning girly things, she pirouetted, danced the pony, and adopted a Valley Girl accent, every choice establishing that she was a woman on her own terms. She not only convinced a generation of girls you could be badass in a dress, she even convinced Kurt Cobain. Anderson dutifully explains that Hanna once spray-painted "Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit" on the wall of the dress-wearing Cobain's house, and the star-to-be fell in love with the phrase before he learned it was a deodorant joke. One of the best revelations is when Hanna realizes that her early songs were aimed at the wrong target. As in the lyrics above, she'd been singing to men instead of the women who looked to her as a role model. But watching this old footage in 2013 is a test of cultural cognitive dissonance. There's Hanna wearing a sexy onesie that Miley Cyrus would love to borrow. Why are we applauding one girl and booing another? How did Hanna make flashing her thong underwear look like a political statement rather than just more man-pleasing marketing?

Amy Nicholson

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