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Review: ‘The Punk Singer’

Celebrating Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna

Kathleen Hanna was lead singer of Bikini Kill and is the focus of the new doc...

Credit: IFC

Above: Kathleen Hanna was lead singer of Bikini Kill and is the focus of the new documentary, "The Punk Singer."

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews the documentary, "The Punk Singer."


The Punk Singer” (opening Dec. 6 at the Digital Gym Cinema) is a documentary focusing on Kathleen Hanna, the dynamic lead singer of Bikini Kill. She was a feminist and activist who mysteriously stopped singing in 2005.

Kathleen Hanna might not be a household name, but maybe that’s as it should be for an artist who stood outside the establishment in order to attack it. She had something to say and she demanded to be heard.

In an early clip from 1991, we see Hanna doing spoken word and angrily stating: "I am your worst nightmare come to life, I am going to tell everyone."

What she wanted to tell everyone was both personal and universal. She didn’t want to be put into a box of stereotypes, she wanted to challenge them with humor, anger, passion and a ferocious talent. In the new documentary “The Punk Singer” she recalls a catalyzing moment.

"I discovered Kathy Acker and went to this workshop that she did," Hanna recalled in the archive footage. "And she asked why do you want to write and I said because nobody has ever listened to me my whole life and I have all this stuff I want to say and she said then why are you doing spoken word, you should be in a band because nobody goes to spoken word but people go to see bands. So I went home and started a band."

The band was Bikini Kill and Hanna found herself at the forefront of the Riot Grrl movement. “The Punk Singer” celebrates her music, activism, and rebellious spirit. Director Sini Anderson (who knew Hanna before making this film) gets Hanna to open up and talk about how late stage Lyme disease prompted her to abruptly stop performing in 2005. Hanna has since returned to music ( with The Julie Ruin and Le Tigre) and “Punk Singer” reminds us of hers contribution to both music and the feminist movement. It’s also an intimate portrait of one woman’s refusal to settle for conformity or the status quo.

"The Punk Singer" (not rated) reflects the energy of Hanna and delivers a triumphant documentary portrait of her.

Tickets for the Film Geek screening on Friday are available here. All other tickets are available online at the Digital Gym.

Watch the trailer.

Riot Grrl Manifesto

Information on Lyme Disease:

Lyme MD

CDC Lyme Disease

Lyme Awareness

Lyme Disease Association

Companion viewing: "Under Our Skin" (documentary about Lyme disease), "It Changed My Life: Bikini Kill In The UK," "The Filth and the Fury,"

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