Movie review

‘The Punk Singer’ makes nonbelievers care about punk | 3 stars

Updated: 2013-12-22T04:22:01Z

By MICK LASALLE

San Francisco Chronicle

There are two kinds of people: People who have never heard of Kathleen Hanna, and people who really think you should know about Kathleen Hanna.

I started watching “The Punk Singer” as the first kind of person and ended it as the second kind. Hanna is a striking and brave talent and something more, too. She really does seem to be some kind of great woman — an original variety of great woman, perhaps, but then greatness tends to be original.

“The Punk Singer” is the story of her life, and fans of Hanna will welcome it; but I’m more interested in addressing people who don’t know her. Hanna is a feminist lead singer and songwriter, and the documentary is an introduction to the 1990s feminist punk scene — sort of the female adjunct of grunge. It’s the story of an artist and her struggles, which are considerable, and also interesting.

But the added pleasure is the introduction to Hanna as a person, who is a winning combination of strength and vulnerability, who is authentic and apparently incapable of being anything other than forthright. She opens up her life to us, so that we see her on home video from the early ’90s, before she was known. We see her with her first band, Bikini Kill, and later with her second band, Le Tigre. We see her coping with Lyme Disease, which is an ongoing struggle, and coming back to perform with a new band.

She is interviewed throughout. Also on camera is Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys, whom she met in the 1990s and married in 2006. Hanna and Horovitz are both so engaging that, as soon we hear they’re together, we hope they stay together. A great woman, after all, deserves a man who can actually tell that she’s great.

So “The Punk Singer” is something unusual, a crash course into a whole world you might not know and an introduction to some nice people you’ll be glad to have met. Going in I had no reason to care, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.

(At the Tivoli.)

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