Well, this doesn’t happen very often, but today I have a book review and a FILM review for you. I don’t know what it is about cinema, but I just don’t go to see many films, or watch them at home. I’m pretty sure it’s not the attention span, as I can spend hours editing away or transcribing. It might well be that I’m not good with violence and have a very retentive, pretty well eidetic memory, so anything horrible I see is glued to my brain for ever more. I do have a few favourites – “Bhaji on the Beach”, um …. But the fact is, I’m not a big cinema-goer or film-watcher. So when I see something that takes me back to my youth, makes me think, makes me sad and happy, where I don’t look at my watch once during the showing and I sit there at the end, willing it not to have finished, I think that deserves a review!
And the great thing is, I saw the excellent film, “The Punk Singer”, about Riot Grrrl, feminist and early zine exponent Kathleen Hanna at the Electric Cinema in Birmingham on 8th June (at its only showing in Birmingham), and then won “‘Zine”, Pagan Kennedy’s 1995 book about her zine, in the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme. I don’t THINK I’m going to start backcombing my hair and wearing shorts, woolly tights and DMs again, but you never know … Anyway, here’s a perfect pair of reviews.
Film: “The Punk Singer”
This film is a biography of Kathleen Hanna, singer in Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and The Julie Ruin, founding mother of the Riot Grrrl music genre and of the zine movement. It was funded partly through benefit concerts and partly through a Kickstarter campaign that I wish I’d known about. Featuring archive footage and old and new interviews with most of the important people to do with the bands and scene (such as Kim Gordon, Joan Jett and members of Sleater-Kinney, it looks home-made and is quirky and charming (the most charming bit was when they showed someone actually cutting and pasting, literally, to create a zine, with a caption explaining what a zine was), but has a lot to say about life, music, feminism, music, marriage, friendship …
What I found captivating about the film as a whole was the sheer number of WOMEN you see in it. While Hanna’s husband and a couple of band confederates get a few minutes, the protagonists, commenters, music specialists and zine experts are predominantly women. Some of these women wear makeup, some don’t. We see people looking run down, as if they’ve just woken up, sweating on stage in pants and vest. Women shouting and swearing and talking about child abuse and domestic abuse and how women get treated in the crowd at concerts. Women are supportive of each other, are celebrating each other, are not set in conflict. Men are seen, where they are seen, as supporting players, nurturing the band or Hanna herself (she went public about her long battle with Lyme Disease in this film, and there are scenes with her doctor and husband which cast them in a supportive and empathetic role).
So, as well as taking me back to my earlier incarnation as a fan of the Riot Grrl movement at a time when I was reading a fair bit of American music writing and fiction and dressing how I wanted and being a strong feminist, it reminded me that, while my much-younger self might not have completely approved of my blue jeans-wearing, MARRIED current self, I am still a feminist, I still care about girls having good, positive, feisty and rule-breaking role models (*runs out and buys copies of the DVD for all of the young women she knows*), and it’s brilliant to see films like this being made and distributed.
I wish this had been on for more dates in Birmingham. I’m not sure how I heard about it, but it was shown at 3pm on a summer Sunday and the cinema was not full. I got quite a lot of interest when I posted on Facebook about it, and a quick Tweet out led me to this website where you can buy a DVD of the film (in the UK and Ireland), plus a rather nice Tshirt and BADGES (buttons). Oh, if only I still had that Air Force Surplus canvas bag. Maybe it’s time to pop down the Army Surplus in Selly Oak (where I bought the original) for a replacement …
Pagan Kennedy – “‘Zine”
(20 June 2014 – LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme)
Reissued by the Santa Fe Writers Project, this is Kennedy’s book from 1995 (did I read it then? The reading journal archives, alas, began in 1997) with no extras, just reprinted with a new cover. It has several full issues of Pagan’s zine, “Pagan’s Head” reproduced in all their typewritten, cut-and-pasted glory, plus narrative about how and why she started and continued it, and life events as the axis of her life shifted from writing and room-mates and hair and thinking about getting a car to more serious matters when her father fell ill and she had to face fairly serious health matters herself.
The free-form format of the zine and the accepting world she inhabits mean that the zine can mutate and change direction as she goes, and this book still reads as fresh and is a useful contemporary documentary of the zine scene. One First World / Ageing Reader problem – because the presumably A4 zine was reproduced in a smaller-format book, some of it was pretty hard to read, requiring strong lighting and the occasional peering over or under my glasses. Readers over 40 – to whom this will necessarily appeal – be warned!