LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS never received a formal theatrical release and was only seen on late-night cable, poor-quality bootlegs, or on rare occasions at film festivals. Yet somehow this 1981 film about a trio of misfit teenage girls who start a punk band went on to inspire a generation of female rockers.
SHE CAN T FOOL ALL THE FANS ALL OF THE TIME . . .
Recently orphaned Corrine Third Degree Burns (a 14-year-old Diane Lane) enlists her cousin (Laura Dern) and sister (Marin Kanter) to launch a punk rock band, The Stains. Three rehearsals later, The Stains score the opening slot on a cross-country tour with aging metal act The Metal Corpses (led by Fee Waybill of The Tubes) and British punk rockers The Looters (real-life punk pioneers Paul Simonon from The Clash and Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols). The Stains meteoric rise (and equally lightening-quick fall) owes more to TV exposure than to talent.
Some movies just stumble towards cult, mythic status; Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains
is one of those magnificent accidents. Besides in-fighting, the few previews shown to the public were unanimously panned, Paramount was at a loss as to how to market it, and the movie had never been available on DVD (or VHS, for that matter). This has just compounded its status as a "lost" film, with the few people who have seen it being evangelical in their gossip about this pseudo punk 'n' roll documentary. Now that its here, was it worth the wait? Does it hold up over time? You bet it does. Orphaned girls (Diane Lane, Marin Kanter) along with their cousin (Laura Dern) channel their frustration into a band, The Stains. After a few gigs, the media picks up what they consider a novelty. This leads to a tour with The Looters--idealistic punks from London--and the Metal Corpses (headed by Fee Waybil of the Tubes in a perfectly oblivious performance). Head Looter takes head Stain under his wing, only to become disillusioned as he watches the American media, and by extension American teens, chose popularity over talent (as he sees it). Despite their differing views about how the movie should be handled, both the message of girl empowerment (screenwriter Nancy Dowd) and the idea that all great ideas become co-opted and watered-down (director Lou Adler) resonate throughout the film. The performances, while not uniformly great, work so well within the context of the documentary style that they have their own charm. And Diane Lane, as Stain leader Corinne "Third Degree" Burns, is simply outstanding, simmering with angst that bursts out at all the right points. A young Ray Winstone turns in a fine performance as the lead singer of the Looters, showing both contempt and sensitivity towards the fledgling Stains. Adding to its cult credentials, the rest of the Looters are played by Steve Jones and Paul Cook (Sex Pistols) and Paul Simenon (The Clash). With audio commentaries by not only director Adler, but stars Lane and Dern, this movie is not only great for any fans of Times Square
and Rock 'n' Roll High School
, but its a great addition to any library of music films in general. --Robert Arambel