At the time of the band's conception the media were reporting on the supposed death of feminism, thus starting a fire in the bellies of the passionate band members. Bikini Kill arrived armed with not just a visceral set-list, but their secret weapon was a powerful manifesto which, through lyricism and performance, saw the birth of the Riot grrl, an army of feminists that burst out of the testosterone-heavy grunge scene and brought feminism back from the brink. Hanna increasingly became known as the figurehead of female empowerment, whilst also the target of a media backlash. Her life choices were criticised and assumptions were made on her personal life through the words used in Bikini Kill's lyrics.
Hanna herself sparkles with charisma, whilst the music provides authenticity and the evidence that this documentary was always just waiting to be made. Context is provided through the perspective of, among many, fellow rock icons Kim Gordon and Joan Jett who through masked interview, attempt to characterise the enigma created by Bikini Kill thanks to a self imposed media blackout. Thankfully, Hanna's career, her achievements and her raison d'etre are interesting enough to keep the documentary afloat without any moments of disruptive narcissism. Even her husband Horovitz, is kept at arms length, only showing the couple together in old homemade footage or photographs. When the couple speak of one another, they do so with respect and adulation, but with little schmaltz. This is no fawning appreciation of a pop princess.
Anderson's rousing doc is about passion, determination and an influential legacy that was recently represented on the ski-masked faces of Pussy Riot and Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers (2012). The arc of the tale leads to the abrupt stop in Hanna's musical output, but unlike other recent rockumentaries such as Hit So Hard (2011) or Pearl Jam Twenty (2011), where protagonists battle with personal demons or fight with major labels, the focus here is on self-control, Hanna's most admirable trait. The Punk Singer is a rewarding and positive experience. Anderson delivers a fascinating account of the grunge era and an influential story of a role model who has the guts and spunk to hopefully inspire a whole new generation of Riot grrls and boys.
For more info about Sini Anderson's The Punk Singer, visit dogwoof.com/thepunksinger.