Last night I watched one of my absolute favorite films of all time: LADIES AND GENTLEMAN THE FABULOUS STAINS!
A great movie in terms of cinema history it is not. But in terms of rock history, cult cinema and third wave feminism, is a very important. Made in 1981 by Paramount, directed by Lou Adler, Ladies and Gentleman stars fourteen-year-old Diane Lane as Corinne Burns (“Third Degree Burns”), and pre-Blue Velvet Laura Dern as her cousin. Along with Corinne’s sister, the girls become The Stains, a punk band that sound like really early Slits recordings. Members of the Sex Pistols and Paul Simonon from the Clash (!) are the band they open for (“The Looters”). Oh and there is a headlining band that is clearly supposed to be KISS, junkie “old farts” in makeup and platforms stuck in the glory haze of the 70s. There is an overdose. Women are referred to as “birds.” Lots of angry cigarette smoking takes place. Corinne pouts, prances, and yells to her audience “WE DON’T PUT OUT.”
Only a week into the tour, Corinne skyrockets The Stains to fame with her fashion-sense (a combination of Siouxsie Sioux’s theatrical makeup and The Raincoats’ ratty girly chic), bad ass attitude, and a series of appearances on local news. She steals The Looters’ big song, “Join the Professionals” after she beds the patronizing lead singer. Next thing you know, The Stains are headlining. Little Corinnes flock to the show, girls called “skunks” because of their appropriation of Corinne’s signature black and white spiky hairdo.
Overnight, The Stains become the punk Miley Cyrus of the day thanks to their new sleazy manager hawking merch to capitalize on the “Skunk” craze. There is fallout and the “skunks” realize they have been swindled. Looks like Corinne’s days of glory are over. However, Corinne’s a fighter. She rebuffs Looter dude’s offer to be a groupie for them, gets her money from the slimy manager via knife wielding, and then gives it to the kindly Rastafarian who drives their tour bus (so he can bail out his friend in jail for ganja smoking, of course!). Without any real explanation, suddenly The Stains end up on MTV and basically become the Go Gos with Looter’s “Join the Professionals” remade into a pop ditty.
Ridiculous? Yes. But as a post punk junkie and lover of hokey teen drama and a champion of girls who rock! I gotta say I still find this movie utterly enjoyable and somewhat inspiring. And I’m not alone. It basically wrote riot grrl before riot grrl existed, and it even kind of foresaw tiot grrl’s tragic watered down commercialization (Spice Girls, “Girl Power,” etc.) after its heyday.
While it was never even distributed in theaters, young girls found it thanks to a second life on late night tv (which was where I first saw it as a little girl). It became a favorite of Courtney Love’s, Tobi Vail (of Bikini Kill), filmmaker Sarah Jacobson, and even Jon Bon Jovi. LONG overdue Rhino home video released the DVD in September.
So I encourage everyone into punk, 80’s nostalgia, feminism, riot grrl, or just electro fashion (Corinne’s hair was all the rage in the Burg four years ago) to go out and get it on Netflix. Also check out the documentary on the making of the film and the struggle to restore the “lost” Paramount picture. It’s equally inspiring. And if anyone can find “I’m a waste of time” (their other song), please let me know!