Ladies and Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains Review
Films develop cult followings for a number of reasons. Even in the DVD era, there are films you have to track down on deleted or even bootleg VHS copies, or pore over TV schedules for a rare screening in order to see it at all...and some films' cults are fuelled by that very obscurity. Unfortunately, when you do see the film in question, it may not live up to its reputation. Ladies and Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains is one such. Never really released by Paramount, its cult has built up from sporadic TV screenings. Now, finally, with music rights issues sorted out, it finally arrives on DVD.
It's the story of Corinne Burns (Diane Lane), growing up as a teenager in a small town. Her father was in the army and killed in action, her mother has just died of lung cancer and she's just been fired from her job on local television. But Corinne is also the lead singer of The Stains, along with sister Tracy (Marin Kanter) on guitar and cousin Jessica (Laura Dern, thirteen at the time) on bass. The Stains go on tour with The Metal Corpses, a washed-up glam rock band, and The Looters, punks from Britain. Then Corinne becomes involved with The Looters's vocalist Billy (Ray Winstone). With a “skunk” hairstyle, a look involving orange eye makeup, see-through tops, fishnets and black knickers (and not much else) and a message that they “don't put out”, The Stains soon attract a following of other teenage girls, but it cannot last...
It's easy to see why this film attracts interest to this day. Fans who picked up on Diane Lane later in the decade can see her in a leading role at age fifteen (and doing a topless shower scene, no less). The film captures a music scene in the dying days of punk and before the characteristic music of the 80s took over. Many teenage girls formed bands as a result of it. More to the point is the presence of real punk musicians in the cast. Fee Waybill of The Tubes plays Lou Corpse, vocalist for The Metal Corpses. Backing Ray Winstone in The Looters are Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols on guitar and drums and Paul Simonon of The Clash on bass. However, it's not especially well made, nor a particularly good looking one (despite Bruce Surtees's presence as DP) and the pace often falters. The script by Nancy Dowd (who took her name off it – the credit goes to “Rob Morton”) is more foul-mouthed than its equivalent nowadays would be likely to be. (The Fabulous Stains has never been submitted to the BBFC, but under present rules it would likely earn an 18 certificate for its use of the word “cunt”.) Though shot in 1980, the film harks back to the previous decade in that it allows its protagonist her rough edges and risks her being unsympathetic. The MTV-parody ending was shot two years later as the studio requested a more upbeat ending: you can see that Laura Dern has grown in the meantime.
In front of the camera, Diane Lane is the best thing about the film: vulnerable and driven, injecting energy when Lou Adler's direction flags. Laura Dern and particularly Marin Kanter have less to do. (Dern has of course gone on to an adult career. Kanter seems to have left the business, though she would have another brush with cultdom as the female lead in The Loveless, the directorial debut of Kathryn Bigelow and Monty Montgomery.) Ray Winstone, in his first American role, seems out of place at times, falling back on Cockney hard-manisms a few too many times. Christine Lahti has an eye-catching two-scene role as Corinne and Tracy's aunt. Brent Spiner appears briefly and without credit as the boss who fires Corinne on live TV.
Young people putting on a band is a storyline that filmmakers have often returned to. Unfortunately for Ladies and Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains, it's been done again, and better - The Commitments comes to mind, as does, to a lesser extent, Garage Days. It's good to have it on DVD, but don't expect a classic.
Ladies and Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains is released by Rhino Entertainment on a DVD-5 encoded for Region 1 only.
The transfer is 1.78:1, anamorphically enhanced, opened up slightly from the intended 1.85:1. Without having seen this film in the cinema, it's hard to say how much this DVD reflects the film's original look. However, the film's low budget certainly shows: skin tones tend towards reddish, and grain is noticeable. Shadow detail could be better.
Dolby Stereo was just taking hold when this film was made, and would become ubiquitous later in the decade. Rhino have provided the original mono soundtrack and also a 5.1 remix which is mostly mono anyway but opens up the soundstage for the concert sequences. Less fortunately, there are no subtitles available.
The DVD has two commentaries. The first, by director Lou Adler, does mention the film's distribution difficulties but is generally fairly dull, spending a lot of time simply describing what's on screen and being complimentary to the cast. The second commentary, by Diane Lane and Laura Dern, is far more entertaining. The two women seem to be having a great time looking back at this film which they made at such a young age: Lane says at one point that watching herself on screen at age fifteen is like watching her (now) teenage daughter. She and Dern laugh and joke and imitate Ray Winstone's accent. Maybe one commentary, with all three participants, might have been a better idea. Even so, some issues don't get addressed: why Nancy Dowd removed her name from the film, and Dern's suing her mother (Diane Ladd) to be able to go on location to make this film.
The remaining extra is a stills gallery.
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