Kathleen Hanna has never had an easy relationship with the media. Just three years into her musical career as the frontwoman of Bikini Kill, Hanna imposed a media blackout after some mainstream publications disparaged her feminist punk band with reductive criticisms — along the lines of calling them hairy-legged rape victims — and falsely reported that Hanna had endured incest.
Hanna finally gets to tell her story to a friendly audience in Sini Anderson’s respectful documentary “The Punk Singer.” She doesn’t get to start from the beginning, of course. Her contributions — as a trailblazing feminist musician who introduced women’s anger to punk and helped rally activists to the cause of sexual assault — have already been etched in history, which Anderson earnestly recounts. Hanna sets the record straight about her oft-misunderstood career and reveals why she withdrew from the spotlight in 2005.
The reason, it turns out, is Lyme disease. The enervating effects of Hanna’s illness and medication dominate the more personal interview segments, so that it isn’t easy to get a sense of her life today apart from her infirmities and the occasional performance. And perhaps that’s the point, there may be little to her life beyond her illness.
Still, “The Punk Singer” fascinatingly traces the evolution of a woman who once sang, “I’m your worst nightmare come to life” in her youth, was hated at a formative age for all the wrong reasons and now has forged a quiet but committed existence as an ailing revolutionary.
“The Punk Singer”
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Playing: Cinefamily, Los Angeles