SIFF Double Feature – The Punk Singer / Terms and Conditions May Apply

SIFF Double Feature – The Punk Singer / Terms and Conditions May Apply

The Punk SingerThe Punk Singer: I was a punk rocker in the late 1980s/early 1990s, and by the time grunge and the riot grrrl revolution came along, I was knocked up at 21 and trying to figure out how to do that whole thing. I kind of missed the advent of feminist female-led punk bands like Bikini Kill, and while I would later get exposed to them, their music never felt like “mine.” The new film by Sini Anderson, The Punk Rock Singer, playing at the Seattle International Film Festival, puts a spotlight on Bikini Kill front-woman Kathleen Hanna, and while watching this film, I realized that I didn’t have to be there in order to claim this music. It speaks as much for women and girls now as it did then.

The Punk Singer gives a basic overview of Hanna’s career coming out of Olympia, Washington, and later moving to Washington, D.D. and New York. The history of the riot grrrl movement is interesting, but it is Hanna’s personal journey that comprises the bulk of the movie, and deservedly so. A dynamic performer, she took the image of the sexy singer and turned it on its head. She sang about whatever she wantedincluding taboo subjects such as rape and violenceand encouraged other women to use their voices as well. After hostile press reactions and band stress, Bikini Kill called it a day, and Hanna moved to Portland and started another band, Le Tigre, with friend Johanna Fateman. Hanna eventually had to stop touringthe movie sets the reason for this up as kind of a mystery, and I don’t want to ruin the revealand would later start another band, The Julie Ruin.

I was deeply affected by this movie. (In fact, it is my favorite so far this year.) Kathleen Hanna is open about the events that have shaped her life and music, and my view of her completely changed over the course of the narrative. I started out thinking she was kind of annoying, but by the end I was practically sobbing “I love you, Kathleen Hanna” to the screen. The idea that young women and girls have the right to speak about whatever they want is still revolutionary, and the film shows her as a dedicated advocate to this cause. She also kicks ass as a performer; she’s got a great voice and more charisma than one person should be allowed to have. This film is important, not just because it is good, but because it documents the story of someone who helped change the conversation about the role of women in music.

The Punk Singer plays at the Harvard Exit on May 24th and 26th.

Final Grade: A

terms_and_conditions_may_applyTerms and Conditions May Apply: If you have ever used a service on the Internet, chances are you have agreed to a terms of use or privacy agreement. Chances are also pretty high you have agreed to those terms of use without actually reading them. Cullen Hoback’s new documentary, Terms and Conditions May Apply, attempts to not only explain what we are signing away in exchange for what is often supposedly “free,” but also how our web interactions can be used to monitor our day-to-day activity by those who may not have our best interests at heart. The film starts off humorously with clips from various television shows, but becomes more somber as Hoback details the changes in various privacy policies over the years. In the beginning, companies were more likely to keep data anonymous, but as pressure from companies and governments got more intense, so did demand to aggregate data associated to an individual user, who no longer stayed so anonymous. With the advent of the Patriot Act, data collection became even more important, and it turns out the greatest potential misuse of our personal data is not by large companies wanting to advertise to us, but by governments wanting to track our movements. It is quite common for most North American and European countries to use data collected by online entities to track potential terrorists and criminals. Which sounds pretty good, until you realize that even the most innocuous online comments we make may be misread by an algorithm looking for keywords in an email we thought was private. If you thought misuse of your data by advertisers was scary, Terms and Conditions May Apply directs that fear to a much more frightening scenario: governments spying on their people because they can.

This film is very effective in communicating the dangers of unrestricted access to personal information. And the sad truth is, it gets easier and easier to sign away privacy in return for a really good search engine or social network. If I have one quibble with the film, it’s that some of the talking heads they use are not what I would consider experts. Regardless of what you think about Orson Scott Card’s writing or personal politics, he’s not an Internet privacy expert, and I’m not sure why he’s there giving his opinion. (He thinks losing privacy is okay in service to the great goal of catching terrorists.) Also, Moby? For the most part, though, the experts seem like experts, and there is nothing presented that seems to be beyond the pale. I’d heard of almost every example regarding erosion of privacy before; it’s how they were all linked to data collection on the web that was the new thought-provoking idea for me. (And by “thought-provoking,” I mean “paranoia-induced freaking out.”)

Terms and Conditions May Apply plays at AMC Pacific Place 11 on May 30th and SIFF Cinema Uptown on May 31st.

Final Grade: A-

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