The Punk Singer is a London Film Festival must-see

Kathleen Hanna, Kurt Cobain's favourite interior designer, is the subject of The Punk Singer. Picture: Contributed
Kathleen Hanna, Kurt Cobain's favourite interior designer, is the subject of The Punk Singer. Picture: Contributed
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THE must-see documentary at this year’s London Film Festival is The Punk Singer, a biopic from first-time director Sini Anderson following chief Riot Grrrl Kathleen Hanna.

“I’m your worst nightmare come to life,” the feminist firebrand is seen screaming on stage. On her journey from spoken-word performances to punk with the band Bikini Kill, electronic rock with Le Tigre, marriage to Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys and a surprise comeback this year with The Julie Ruin, it’s only serious illness that can sap the 44-year-old’s indomitable spirit.

The Riot Grrrl movement started gaining mainstream traction around the same time as grunge in the early 1990s. It was Hanna who gave her friend Kurt Cobain the title of his most famous song when she spraypainted “KURT SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT” on his wall.

Hanna preached girl power before the Spice Girls spoiled it, but unlike Nirvana she remained largely remained underground.

It led to a perception that a vital new scene, in which female fans were brought to the front rows and furious punk songs addressed domestic violence and the objectification of women, had fizzled fast.

Yet you only need to look at today’s music scene to see her influence and how much figureheads such as her are still needed, with the media displaying female singers on magazine covers only when they take their clothes off.

Songs such as Daddy’s Li’l Girl covered disturbing subjects rarely heard in rock. In the film she speaks candidly about her “sexually inappropriate” father, her early job in a strip club and the sexual assault of her best friend in the house they shared.

After Bikini Kill drifted apart in 1998, Hanna came back with the more tuneful and sonically wide-ranging Le Tigre, before splitting that trio in 2005. Now she reveals that she left because she was suffering from late-stage Lyme disease, a condition that affects the nervous system and in her case went undiagnosed for six years.

Seeing her suffer in scenes filmed by Horovitz, then finally in recovery and on stage with her new band in 2010 allows for a traditional cinema happy ending.

This raw film should ideally tempt teens away from the One Direction movie and help her to inspire the next generation of punk rock feminists.

• The Punk Singer screens at the London Film Festival on 17, 19 and 20 October. For more information, visit