Each week Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.
If Bikini Kill/Le Tigre mastermind Kathleen Hanna had attended this week’s screening of the new, critically praised Le Tigre documentary at the Maysles Institute in Harlem, New York, she knows exactly what she would have worn. “A white gauze pantsuit with rainbow piping and laces up the front along with my purple clogs, a Hermes scarf, and a brown half-cocked fedora. Or, that’s what I would be wearing in my head,” she told me the day before the event. “In reality, I’ll probably be wearing dirty jeans and a button up shirt I iron on a towel, two minutes before leaving the house.”
As I got off the subway at 125th and made my way to the film center, I was still pondering the news that Hanna – multimedia artist, rock star and feminist icon – knows how to iron. Maysles, a combo screening forum and documentary filmmaking school, has the homey vibe of a community center in a liberal college town. The people who sell tickets display the conscientious absent-mindedness of Ph.D. students, there are folding chairs in the screening room and for sale at the concession stands is real, home-popped, perfectly salted popcorn and microbrews.
The film we’d all assembled to see, Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour, has pretty narrow parameters: Using archival footage from 2004 and 2005, as well as interviews with the bandmembers, it covers the electroclash trio’s final tour. But it manages – with remarkably little condescension, preaching or bossy historicizing – to put the band in a larger musical, pop-cultural and socio-political context. Even someone who knows nothing about Riot Grrrl, Bikini Kill or Le Tigre could walk away from Bomp feeling like an insider. Not that anyone in this crowd was in need of conversion. It was a mix of the band’s friends, there to support them during the Q&A that followed the screening, and Le Tigre superfans, studious looking twenty-something girls with good skin and glasses, and boys with perfect jaw-lines in sockless dress shoes.
Before the film even started, we got the bad news: Kathleen was sick and couldn’t attend. This was like when you plan spend a week planning what PJ’s you’ll wear to a friend’s sleepover because you have a crush on her brother, get through dinner without asking where he is, then finally manage to slip it into conversation only to be told he’s on a snowboarding trip or something. (It happened to a friend of mine, okay?!) I consoled myself, remembering the conversation I’d already had with Hanna about the film, in which I asked her what of note was left out. “There are no shots of all the gross bathrooms or the woman hating graffiti that ‘decorated’ most of them,” she replied. “I remember peeing in a toilet right before going onstage one night and as I peed I was looking at a picture someone had drawn of a naked woman tied up, who had penises coming on her from all directions. This was kind of a typical scenario: surrounded by sexist bullshit and then taking the stage with a smile on my face, happy to see the feminist fans smiling back at me.”
She would have been happy at Maysles. There was a lot of high-pitched cheering and whooping as beatmaker/guitar goddess Johanna Fateman took the stage alongside filmmaker Kerthy Fix. As the conversation gathered speed, covering topics as varied as Zine culture, New York punk rock and of course, feminism, I snuck downstairs to grab another round. On my way back to my seat, another attendee offered to open my beer with her combo wallet-chain/bottle opener. “When we started in 1999, it was Eminem’s Anger Management tour and Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock,” Fateman remembered, as this helpful stranger handed my beer back. “Lady Gaga is pretty awesome compared to that.” I’m one of those people who thinks women are often hardest on each other, but the heady mix of my third beer with Fateman’s optimism made it feel, for at least one evening, like girls really are, and always have been, secretly in charge.