Thursday, September 25, 2008

"Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains" 1981

Here it is, the DVD you've been waiting for, all spoiled up here. After being shelved upon its release and only showing up on late-night cable TV and a few festivals, ...The Fabulous Stains has arisen. Lou Adler's second film after Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke is about what you'd expect from a guy who left the music industry to direct Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke. It's a bad film but it has lots of good little moments throughout.

Marketed as a satire, it plays most of its scenes straight and doesn't seem to know what it's satirizing. Punk rock? The meaning behind pop music? Feminism? Media-fueled youth marketing? It's all there and I still haven't a clue what the film is saying about any of these ongoing topics.

The duct tape on the microphone stand is a nice touch though. It's the kind of detail that make the film cult-y and watchable. The grime, exhaustion, youth and inexperience of its rock & roll road-trip, all come through—in the backstage dressing rooms that look smelly; the bad hair, and clangy guitar sounds. The shots of the bands facing their adoring and hostile audiences get it right.

Directing live music on film that feels like a spontaneous moment in time is almost impossible, but this film manages it, which could be what people respond to when they see it for the first time. What does it feel like to be in a punk band? A lot like this, and you probably need a shower too.

Plus you get 15-year-old pissed-off Diane Lane and her 13-year-old cousin Laura Dern, escaping their shithole Pennsylvania town by turning themselves into pre-riot-grrl stars. So what if they have no talent or originality and they dress like street-walkers on angel dust? I found the film most disappointing in its exploitative use of young girls in see-through tops (what Diane Lane calls in her entertaining DVD commentary with Laura Dern, "Titty power!"), underpants, fish-nets and heels—and its many close-ups of teen-age crotch on stage. That was and remains icky.

Saving the enterprise is Diane Lane, whose intelligence, instincts, and dignified presence shine through, as always. She's such an underrated actress. Had she been working in the 1940s she would have been the best film noir anti-heroine of all. See her in Hollywoodland to get an idea of her range. I don't care how many Richard Gere films she feels compelled to do—I'm glad to see her making a comeback all these years later. And now:

Ladies and Gentlement, The Fabulous Stains

Diane Lane in The Fabulous Stains
The Looters in The Fabulous Stains

Fun facts:

The British punk band that tours with the Stains are played by Paul Cook and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, the haunting eyes of Clash bassist Paul Simonon (sigh), and former boxer turned actor, Ray Winstone, singing for the first time (and punching half the cast out). Diane Lane says in her commentary, "These guys were TIGHT!" which cracks me up, but she's right. Their two songs are power punk on rocket fuel, wearing lots of hair gel and big wool coats. Realistic dialogue: Steve Jones says, "wanker," "tosser," and "bollocks."

Fee Waybill, lead singer of The Tubes, parodies himself in stoner fashion and was really disappointed when this didn't result in his big acting break. Welcome to Hollywood.

Screenwriter Nancy Dowd (Slap Shot, Coming Home) left the project and took her name off the finished film after experiencing sexual harassment by the crew. Not much female empowerment happened on-screen as well.

Courtney Love claimed to have found inspiration in this film—about a girl with more bravado than talent, who dresses like a (kinder)whore and steals her best song from a male rock group. I will say no more.


- L.A. Times
- The A.V. Club.
- Brianorndorf's Stains article features the short documentary by the late Sara Jacobson, The Making of Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains. Jacobson was working on a screenplay about an all-girl rock band but it remains unfinished as far as I know.

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