We are on the cusp of a riot-grrrl resurgence, or so we hope. Early last year, NYU’s Fales Library announced that the institution had acquired Kathleen Hanna’s 1989-1996 papers. Then in the fall, news of a Hanna documentary spread, with activist/poet/Sister Spit staple Sini Anderson at the helm, blessed with her subject’s collaborative approval. The Kathleen Hanna Project, the film’s working title, also inspired a tribute concert at the Knitting Factory last December that staged the Bikini Kill firebrand’s past-and-present peers (Kim Gordon, Team Dresch’s Kaia Wilson, Toshi Reagon) and descendents (Coco Moore, Care Bears on Fire) covering the third-wave feminist’s work for footage. That night, Hanna exhumed her pre-Le-Tigre alter-ego Julie Ruin, performing four songs and announcing that she was working on new Julie Ruin material.
Now, we have another testimony to Hanna’s influence and post-riot-grrrl evolution, Who Took The Bomp? Le Tigre On Tour. Comprised of travel footage from the band’s This Island tour, Who Took The Bomp? is an endearing portrait of a seminal-feminist trio who, more than six years later, are phasing into roles as public intellectuals. We recently spoke with director Kerthy Fix, who is also responsible for the Stephin Merritt non-fiction film Strange Powers.
Le Tigre’s lighting director Carmine Covelli shot this footage and you were handed it years later. Why did Kathleen Hanna ask you?
I’d worked on the distribution of a film called Who Does She Think She Is, which is about unknown women artists who are mothers. After three-and-a-half years of untraditional distribution–hipster dudes aren’t interested in parenting issues and we didn’t get in to any festivals–we’re finally on PBS in spring and we’ve got like 70 per cent coverage across the United States. But it took like, really unusual distribution: the director had been a producer on Born Into Brothels so she thought Sundance would take it just on rolls after that. So we were like, ‘Oh shit,’ when we didn’t get into anything.
Anyway, the answer to your question: Courtney Martin, who wrote Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters–looking at eating issues and body issues and pop culture–is in our film Who Does She Think She Is, and she was on a panel with Kathleen.
Why is this coming out now? With the Sini Anderson film, and everything else, is this calculated to be part of a Kathleen Hanna resurgence?
Not in a sales way. I think it’s just a part of the natural transition to her becoming a public intellectual. She’s so charismatic, she needs to have a public forum. She feeds off of it, it feeds her, and people need it–it’s just Kathleen really taking her place on the public stage.
Also, I think something is happening generationally. Young people who are in their early-to-mid-30s now, who heard Le Tigre at the most impressionable–you know, when you are in your 20s, the music you listen to, the ideas you are exposed to, really leave imprints–those folks are coming to a place of authority and power culturally. And they are kind of looking around–just the way [my generation] felt in the Reagan and Bush era when we thought, ‘We’ve got to start Act Up! and Lesbian Avengers’–and they’re seeing that Planned Parenthood and NPR’s funding are in peril and thinking, ‘What kind of fucking culture am I going to live in?’ It inspires you to act and look into the past and see what people have done previously.
What was your goal in working on this? Was there a guiding principle?
Maybe not the overall principle, but I thought that it was important to show Jo[hanna Fateman]. I wasn’t conscious before the film of exactly what her role was [in Le Tigre], but I see her as the intellectual oak tree of that collaboration. She’s very thoughtful, intellectually rigorous. As JD [Samson] says, Jo’s the beatmaker and the base of their electronic sounds. I think because Kathleen is so charismatic, and JD is known for the gender thing, that Jo gets lost. But really, as far as the art-making, she’s really the foundation. So I was interested in pulling that out a little more.
You mentioned that Kathleen wanted to take out the segment in the film that’s a workout video spoof–she’s falling off a balance ball and playing around in a gym with the rest of the band. Being a public intellectual, as you say, her persona does seem very serious. It’s nice to see her being goofy.
Us too. We felt strongly that that was so charming–and showing that they, as a band, play. They made playtime an intrinsic part of their lives.
I was watching Portlandia and in one of the skits, a guy is like, “Can’t stop. Computer, headphone, my tablet, Facebook!” But I believe in playtime! We need playtime!
Who Took the Bomp! screens at MOMA tonight, Monday, April 4, at 7pm, with a Q&A featuring Johanna Fateman and Kathleen Hanna following the screening. Member tickets can be reserved here, non-member tickets are $10 and only sold in person.