Monday, September 22, 2008

#69: Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains


Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains
Directed by Lou Adler
Written by Nancy Dowd
Released ... almost never (Made in 1980)


I've been waiting to see Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains since I'd read of its existence in about 1995, when I found an article about the long lost cult classic in a random zine I'd bought at a record store. How a movie about an all girl punk rock band, fronted by Diane Lane (pretty much the crush of my childhood, beginning with her love-at-first-sight appearance in The Outsiders) and featuring members of The Clash and the Sex Pistols, had escaped me for so long is impossible to explain. I guess the fact that the World Wide Web had just begun to blossom the year prior could be partly to blame.

Prior to the Rhino re-release of this film just last week, I had only seen footage from a terrible Internet-circulated bootleg sent to me by a helpful reader named Ray. I'm not even sure if this movie ever got a proper VHS release back in the day, as every account and review I've read of it mentions the show being aired on "Night Flight" back in the early '80s.

The curious need be no longer, since the Stains have finally made their way to DVD.

Lane stars (and gives easily one of the best performances of her career) as an angry, disenchanted teenager named Corrine Burns, who starts a fairly terrible punk band with her sister and her cousin after her mother dies of cancer. Renaming herself Third Degree Burns, she attends a concert at a local dive and witnesses a life-changing show from opening act The Looters, fronted by an incredibly young looking Ray Winstone and featuring Paul Cook and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and Paul Simonon of The Clash.

A bit unrealistically (well, this is pretty much satire), Burns' band is asked to join the tour. After hopping on the bus and performing one show -- where Burns lashes out at the audience and reveals her new look to her shocked bandmates -- the bassist for the lame headlining act dies and the Stains and The Looters continue the tour together.

Burns quickly learns how to manipulate the media to promote herself and her ideas ("We're the Stains, and we don't put out."), and in the process becomes a massive influence on the country... before her band can even properly play their instruments. As media coverage of the Stains' tour continues, young women across the country begin popping up at shows dressed as Burns. The Fabulous Stains predates and yet predicts the phenomenon that would be Madonna. I've always though it was somewhat unfortunate that personalities like Madonna took off while truly powerful women like Joan Jett got left in her dust.

Judging from The Fabulous Stains, Jett (and her pre-Blackhearts punk band The Runaways) had more influence that we may have realized. The Stains may even have returned the favor as a cultural milestone for bands like Bikini Kill or Sleater-Kinney and possibly even The White Stripes (I wonder if they got their name from a line that Winstone says to Lane, describing her great image but lack of talent: "At the moment, you're just too white stripes").

For more on Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- Buy the DVD, and learn about its background and resurgence here.

The trailer: