Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous StainsWritten by Matteo Sedazzari
© Words Matteo Sedazzari
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (directed by Lou Adler, Up in Smoke and ex owner of Dunhill and Ode record labels) is a marvellous film that captures the trappings of fame, life on the road and general chaos experienced in rock ‘n’ roll. Released in 1982 although made in 1980, with additional footage shot two years later to offer a more positive ending to same. It tells the story of an all female punk/new wave band The Fabulous Stains from Pennsylvania. Looking like sixties group The Shaggs, led by the arrogant and distrustful Corinne “third degree” Burns played by Diane Lane
(The Glass House, The Perfect Storm, Man of Steel) aged 15 at the time of filming, with her sister Tracey actress Marin Kanter who only made five films and dropped out of acting all together in 1990 and this was her last film. Their cousin Jennifer played by Laura Dern (Enlightened, Wild at Heart , Inland Empire) who seemed to be a favourite with director David Lynch and who was 13 at the time of filming. The part of her mother was actor Diane Ladd (Chinatown, Kingdom Hospital, Wild at Heart) and, as with Laura Dern, a favourite of David Lynch. Just to prevent her from travelling to make the film Dern won a legal emancipation case and made the film. So in the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll the adults don’t understand the kids.
Corinne and Tracey’s mother had passed away from cancer. Corinne is receiving media attention as a youngster working in a fast food restaurant, she denounces her home town and in the follow up interview hints the only escape is rock and roll. Loud mouthed but articulate and brave, Corinne is perfect to front a band which she does, The Stains. After attending a local gig, she witnesses London punk rock band, The Looters, sees the light and knows only music can save her and her family. The writer, Nancy Dowd (Slap Shot, Coming Home and Swing Shift) was inspired to write the screenplay after seeing The Ramones live. Corinne sweet talks the promoter and bus driver, Lawnboy, a British reggae loving rasta, played by musician Barry Ford (There has been always been a strong affiliation between reggae and punk due to film maker, musician and reggae DJ Don Letts, playing Jamaican based tunes at the legendary Punk Venue The Roxy, in-between acts like The Clash, The Sex Pistols and such like). Lawnboy lets the girl group join the tour, there is one downside, they really can’t play. Yet Corinne is a bright girl, an opportunist with a Machiavellian edge.
So she and her band join the ‘magic’ bus, a greyhound bus driving to red neck venues across the US, and the other bands, The Metal Corpses, a glam metal band over the age of 30, whose music and message is now meaningless, and the punk explosion in the mid-seventies, that hit both the UK and the US has made sure they never reach dizzy heights again. Led by Lou Corpse (Fee Waybill of US punk band The Tubes) is a sad figure who would rather bury his head in a bag of coke, than wake up and smell the coffee. Whilst The Looters are a brash no messing gang of lads from London and the cast of this band is iconic of the British punk scene and cinema. Sex Pistol’s Steve Jones and Paul Cook , Steve and Danny the guitarist and drummer for The Looters respectively, whilst Clash bassist Paul Simonon plays Johnny the bassist, and fronted by Ray Winstone as Billy. So you can safely say it is The Sex Pistols with WInstone standing in for Johnny Rotten and Simonon standing in for Matlock or Vicious. Any fan of The Clash, Pistols or Punk in general will clearly enjoy seeing The Looters perform, as I did.
Jones, Cook and Simonon hold their own in terms of acting and added to the story, not just a cameo. Furthermore, the final ever Sex Pistols tour was on a bus in the USA, playing down south to red necks, and Jones and Cook clearly bring this experience to the table, as The Looters seem to hate each other and will argue at any given moment. Those who have seen Winstone in Scum as Carlin, the Borstal daddy, you can’t help but think that when he has done his time and left Borstal, joined a punk band, he is happy to give a slap to those that annoy him or stand in his way.
The Stains are awful on their opening night, being booed off stage leading Corinne to give out a battle cry “I’m perfect, but nobody in this shithole get’s me because I don’t put out”. The atmosphere on the bus and at the venues between the bands is hostile, but there is sexual tension between Billy and Corinne, and when a drug related death happens for The Metal Corpses, Corinne seizes the opportunity for an interview with a local TV show saying that the musician was her lover. This proves to be The Stains ‘ Beatles’ on the Ed Sullivan show’s moment, as it is aired across the State. Thousands of girls with no direction find a voice in her, with her black and white hair, lingerie attire underneath her rain coat (surely a homage to punk star Cherry Vanilla). A fan base is formed calling themselves Skunk due to Corinne’s hair. Very soon The Stains are the headliners and after stealing one of The Looters’ songs ‘ Join the Professionals’ by seducing Billy in a motel room, she, her sister and her cousin are hot property in music.
However with The Stains, soon more and more girls attend their gigs dressed like Corinne, they are no longer individuals, which contradicts “I don’t put out”. The fans are conned out of their money, by buying wigs, dolls, posters and other merchandise at the gig. Billy (Winston) now as support to The Stains shouts out to the female band fans that they are being cheated, which is reminiscent of Johnny Rotten’s (Lydon) final words as a Sex Pistol (before the reunion, and the name Rotten was never used again by him) “ah-ha-ha. ever get the feeling you've been cheated” Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, California, January 14, 1978. As the film comes to a close, The Stains seem to be finished yet they still have a fan base, songs played on the radio. The film ends with the girls all grown up and performing in a musical video which seems to be causing a sensation. This was the scene filmed two years later as the audience reaction to the original cut was negative, which didn’t please original writer Dowd.
However the film makers knew that music videos were the way forward, which seems obvious now but in 1982 it was a new media and many major record labels weren’t adding video shoots to their marketing. That is why Flock of Seagulls were huge in the US because it wasn’t down to their musical ability that is for sure, it was one of the only videos readily available to MTV when they launched the station. The Fabulous Stains is a visionary, powerful and clever film that exposes the marketing exploitation of musicians. How the media can create a trend and the record industry will milk it to the last penny. Furthermore, it would be bold to say the film predicted women becoming more vocal in the world of rock ‘n’ roll, which was perhaps influenced prior to filming Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains by Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry of Blondie Exene Cervenka of X, The Runaway.
Even these artists were successful although rock ‘n’ roll was very much a man’s world. Yet feminists in music has grown from strength to strength, with the rise of Riot grrrl ( the American 90s female punk movement), the success of Salt ‘n’ Pepper from Hip and Hop, Madonna pushing feminism to new boundaries and perhaps the most bravest band on the planet today, Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk rock protest group with two of their key members (Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova) doing two years hard labour for protesting against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church, which they performed and filmed at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Moscow, February 2012. Five in total performed, as stated two are incarcerated. Yekaterina Samutsevich arrested but released on probation, and the remaining two fled Russia in fear of imprisonment.
Something Corinne would be proud of, and in the same breath annoying and angry at their jail time. For the record ZANI says free Pussy Riot. Could you see The Spice Girls, who falsely claimed they were all about Girl Power, doing that in their heyday ? No, all they wanted was to be famous and the unity of women just suited their marketing strategy. Perhaps the greatest rock ‘n’ roll swindle of all time.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains available on Netflix