Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains – 1982

In this week's Netflix 911, Jamie examines the punk satire that saw Oscar winning screenwriter Nancy Dowd team up with 60's pop impresario (and director of Cheech & Chong's Up In Smoke) Lou Adler to chart the birth, demise, and ultimate rebirth of the punk rock movement.

Diane Lane and Ray Winstone star in a cynical and satirical retelling of a familiar rise and fall tale, set to the backdrop of the punk movement in the late 70s/early 80s, which poses interesting questions about integrity, identity, and the effect of media in popular culture, that transcends the subculture boundaries. Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains was unceremoniously dumped by distributors, and did not get a decent release until 2008, thereby destroying any real chance of influencing generations of disaffected youngsters but inserting an extra layer of punk credibility.

After a series of appearances on the local news, Corinne “Third Degree” Burns finds relative stardom as her tough talk and bleak outlook lands her band, The Stains, on a U.S tour. She becomes a inspiration to teen girls with her slogan “don't put out” and forms a troubled relationship with Billy, vocalist of their tour-mates The Looters; a sort of supergroup formed by members of The Clash, Sex Pistols and the cast of Scum.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains chronicles a microcosm of the ubiquitous punk atmosphere that was winding down at the start of the decade and, as such, is able to convincingly cover the entire life-cycle of a band swept up in the momentum. While events in the film move a little bit quicker than one would like, it is anchored by particularly brilliant performances from fresh-faced future household names alongside credence-building members of the punk aristocracy in the shape of Fee Waybill (of The Tubes), Paul Simonon (of The Clash), Steve Jones and Paul Cook (both of the Sex Pistols).

Diane Lane imbues Corinne with such life through her eyes and manner that, even when delivering long and awkward soliloquies, she feels real. Lane finds a real voice for her character and clings to it for dear life as she moves from tragedy to fame and back again. It really is one of the finest teen performances ever; one that may have provided a beacon for similarly aged girls everywhere, had it been readily available to them. As The Looters' singer Billy, Ray Winstone does his best to channel the vacuous snarl of a Johnny Rotten and mostly succeeds. Even though he seems so very out of place in the United States Midwest, Winstone creates a recognisable villain in the shape of a punk purist with a suitably woolly set of ethics that is perfectly at odd with Lane's lost soul. Laura Dern and the rest of the cast handle their material admirably though, aside from a beautiful moment shared by Dern and screen mother Christine Lahti, they ostensibly have very little to do.

Directed by record mogul, Lou Adler, Stains was shot in the early part of the 80s and, as such, exists in that strange crossover period between decades that dictates a severe collision of styles. Adler manages to make this work to his advantage as the newer, bolder technique shaking up what would be a very staid picture could draw comparison to the emergence of the anarchic visual palette of punk rock descending on a small Midwestern town. While this is fresh and exciting, sometimes it does end up looking a little bit too much like an episode of Columbo.

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Stains manages to predict, and disassemble, figures like Madonna, Courtney Love and Kathleen Hannah before they even set foot on a stage. Depending on where your perception lies, Corinne's arc can be viewed as a boldly feminist tale or, indeed, one that seeks to debunk pop feminism by its very design. The film's proximity to the inception of MTV caused the Powers That Be to tack on a scene to the film's downer ending which, in an feat of Schrödinger-esque logic, manages to both demean and reinforce the message of Stains.

While the pace sometimes dithers, and the ending manages to redirect the film's message to something altogether softer, Stains is a wonderful entry into the punk film cannon. If indeed punk is dead, then Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains operates as a sort of CSI episode speculating as to what might have
killed it and attempting to hold it accountable.

Pop culture significance: 9
Central performances: 8
Impartial commentary: 9
Disaffected speechifying: 7
Punk credibility: 8

Brilliant – Stains manages to wonderfully dissect the rise and fall of an entire genre through the prism of a group of discontented teen girls, while simultaneously predicting the careers trajectory of countless rock and pop icons.

  • This was written for a series of Netflix recommendations and published in 2013 at the sadly defunct zombiehamster.com.
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