Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Punk Singer DVD Review

Reviewed by Scott Meyers
Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of the punk band Bikini Kill and dance-punk trio Le Tigre, rose to national attention in the 1990s as the reluctant but never shy voice of the riot grrrl movement. She became both one of the most famously outspoken feminist icons and a cultural lightning rod. While her critics wished she would just shut up, her fans hoped she never would. So when in 2005 Hanna stopped shouting, many wondered why. Through 20 years of archival footage and intimate interviews with Hanna and those who were part of the scene, including music legends Joan Jett and the Beastie Boys' Adam Horowitz (Hanna's husband), The Punk Singer takes viewers on a fascinating tour of contemporary music and offers a never-before-seen view into the life of this fearless leader.

Film (2 out of 5 stars)
In this documentary style film we fallow the life of Kathleen Hanna, who in the late 1980 started a revolutionary movement in feminism. The film opens with some close acquaintances and women who were moved by her discussing Hanna's life and why she was an important figure. We are then flashed back to Kathleen's childhood to find out how difficult is was: her father did not support or encourage her and her passion for singing, then there was her mother who "tried" to give her real world advice which more often than not cause more emotional damage than helped. By the time she went to college she was finding ways to express herself through art (mainly painting), but when she tried to showcase her work she was told her work was questionable in content so they would not show her work.

Her two main inspirations were feminism and punk rock, and other females from her college asked her to join their band because they shared the same ideals; their thought was this combination was going to be revolutionary. The group was not trying to do this to be rich and famous, to them it was more important to get their point across and they wanted to take punk rock for the feminists. Kathleen's band, Bikini Kill, wanted women to be more prominent at their style of concert, which is where men usually dominated and were very aggressive with their mosh pits.

The more they performed the more the band thought they could not grow in their hometown of Olympia, WA, so they decided to move to Washington D.C. where the music scene was in line with what the band believed in. This is when Kathleen and the other female band members started a movement known as "Riot Girl", and idea where women get together to share common ideals. Soon Riot Girl started to spread and began popping up around the country. The band experienced rocky moments and eventually broke up in 1997.

After her career with Bikini Kill Kathleen became a role model for feminism and emphasizes that a person's past does not define who they are or who they can become, and soon she becomes a target both verbally and physically. Her style while singing was she sang to the men trying to get them to think differently or to just tell them off, but after the band broke up she started making music and her inspiration was to talk to women and tried to bring them together; she gave this new reborn artist a new name, Julie Ruin. This new artist started a new band, Le Tigre, that had the same message as before but with a more sophisticated sound. Le Tigre got international fame and Kathleen was not ready for this and at the end of their tour she felt that she had gotten her point across and had nothing else to say so she just retired. We find that was not the complete truth and learn the entire story.

In 2008 while attending a rally Kathleen suffered a severe panic attack that looked much worse. During the testing she finds out that she has Lyme Disease and that was the cause of so many problems she had been having for so long. The illness inspires Kathleen to bring back Julie Ruin because her mindset starts to revert back to the time when Julie Ruin first came out. Julie Ruin allows her to get feelings and emotions that normally she can't say. Kathleen had a very colorful life, a life that most people could never imagine enduring even a small amount. She took everything in stride and always seemed to come out stringer from whatever problem she was facing.

Her story's progression was interesting to watch through the actual footage. I enjoyed watching all the archived footage, seeing interviews with Kathleen throughout the years when her ideals changed. The one complaint would be that the footage could have used retouching, the quality of film was not the best and while the audio was in surround sound, the music could have sounded better. 
Video (2 out of 5 stars)
Put together from actual footage from, interviews and performances. This DVD is 1.78:1 widescreen format. Only a minimal amount of this film was shot for this purpose, just about everything was put together from old footage; that made this film seem more like it was made for MTV or VH1 back in the mid 1990's and re-released onto DVD. The quality of video was poor, but I am sure the technology used was high-tech for its time.
Audio (2 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Using 5.1 Dolby Digital sound the quality was on the poorer side. Being old footage and not being remastered in modern quality made the sound not the greatest. The concert scenes were well done and the sound quality was better there. I think the 5.1 surround sound was wasted on something like this, the sound was more modern but the video not being updated did not mesh the 2 pieces together.
Extras (2 out of 5 stars)
There's not a lot of extras included on this disc.
  • Deleted Scenes -
    • Tour Stories
    • Gardening
    • Strip for Art
    • The Julie Ruin
  • Music with Images - Tour of I think Kathleen's home, inside and outside, with piano music playing in the background.
  • Viva Knievel - A look at a band Kathleen was a part of writing very dark feminist topics about sexual abuse.
  • Hey Lady - Homemade TV show Kathleen made about her life.
  • Somersault - Kathleen's personal video interviewing people at college with some early performance footage.
  • Trailer - IFC Films trailer of the film
Summary (2 out of 5 stars)
The Punk Singer looks at the darker side of Kathleen Hanna's life and we as the viewer get to see some footage that has never been seen before. The progression that the film takes flowed very well and the film did not seem to ever have a slow section. The extras seemed like something they added just so they could say there were extras, but did not add any value to the DVD. I am disappointed that the film makers did not remaster the footage to make the quality better. The film to me is something you would watch on a rainy day stuck inside and you find it on MTV as a tribute to bands from the 90's.

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