I Like to Watch (Instantly): Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains
Directed by Lou Adler
Cast: Peter Donat, Diane Lane, Marin Kanter, Laura Dern, Christine Lahti, Janet Wright, Mia Bendixsen, Stuart Ferguson, Ray Winstone, Paul Simonon
Some people call this the best punk movie nobody's seen. With its release on Netflix InstaWatch, I'm sure that's becoming less true. The flick was made in the early '80s but wasn't released on DVD for 26 years.
When it first came out, The Fabulous Stains never saw its way to many theaters; early test screenings showed that people didn't quite know what to make of it.
The flick kind of doesn't know what to make of itself. The pacing is weird and the themes obscured. Maybe that's because it was directed by a music biz type but written by Nancy Dowd, (who, it's rumored, disliked the final version of the movie so much she put it out under the pseudonym Rob Morton).
The basic plot is this: Corinne Burns' (Diane Lane) mother has died. She takes her sister (Marin Kanter) and cousin (Laura Dern) and flees their sad, industrial hometown. They're The Stains. They've practiced three times. They can't play their instruments, but somehow, they're given a chance to join a tour with a washed up-metal/prog act and The Looters, a fake up-and-coming punk band.
The Looters' lineup is enough reason to catch the movie: Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook and guitarist Steve Jones, Clash bassist Paul Simonon and Tubes frontman Fee Waybill. Also making a cameo: Black Randy.
So The Stains take the stage at a club for the first time, and the band's sound would be OK at the worst high school talent show ever. There's no drummer.
Third Degree Burns (Corinne's new stage name) slowly reveals her new self. From under a hat, a skunk pattern dyed into her hair. From behind a trenchcoat, no pants (now we know where Lady Gaga got the idea), and a see-through old-lady blouse with no bra.
The show goes badly. People hate her. Burns' bandmates leave the stage, shocked by her outfit and the audience response. But she just turns up the wry observation and presence, talking shit about a woman in the crowd who looks like she came to the show hoping one of the dude band assholes would notice her.
The performance generates buzz, and The Stains become the big deal on the tour, overtaking their male counterparts. Burns rises to stardom over a month due to a ton of media attention. All of her fans begin emulating the look and the mantra: "We're The Stains, and we don't put out!" Burns explains in an interview that this is about "not getting screwed."
The Looters' singer hates Burns. Predictably he falls in love with her, softens her toward him, and then screws her over. He takes the stage to open for The Stains, and the entire audience is women with skunk hair and red blouses. The Looters try to play, but the crowd is impatient and calls for The Stains throughout the set. He gets angry, and makes a speech about how Burns is just taking their money. The fickle audience turns on The Stains, and a male newscaster is the first in line to critique Burns harshly, saying he knew all along that she was a phony.
So, in some ways, the film is about how media build up young women, fascinated by their sexuality, and then tear them back down.
But it's also about a teen who manipulates the media and her circumstances to her advantage. Remember: In the beginning of the movie, nothing is working out for Burns. She can't get a job, and she's trying to figure out how to take care of her sister.
Plus, the flick is an interesting commentary on rock and roll. The Stains never learn how to play their instruments. They never get a drummer. They're only show, message and fashion.
Despite a lot of awkwardness (that I'm willing to attribute to the direction) there are moments of profundity that come from the script.
In one particularly memorable scene, Burns' aunt is being interviewed by a reporter. She hasn't heard from her daughter or nieces for a month. She says that she's truly sorry for berating them all the time, for not believing in them and for breaking down their confidence. That's how her mother trained her, she says.