This installment of Damaged, is brought to you by our friend Shawn Robare, who you may know as one-third of the Cult Film Club podcast and website, which you can find HERE. You can also find him laying down nostalgia and rolling in it like a pile of Jem and the Hologram dolls at Branded In The ’80s HERE. So without further ado, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains!
“I think that girl is great, she said what I think all day long…”
Though most might recognize Diane Lane’s from some of her early performances in The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, and as the highly kidnap-able rock goddess Ellen Aim in Water Hill’s 1984 rock opera Streets of Fire, it was as Corrine Burns, frontwoman for the titular punk band in Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains where she really kicked the door down and took Hollywood by storm. One part Poly Styrene, one part Patti Smith, one part Exene Cervenka, with a dash of Belinda Carlisle, sixteen year-old Lane’s Corri…excuse me, 3rd Degree Burns encapsulates the listless, pissed off, and slightly hopeless tone of the late 70s, early 80s West Coast punk scene. I’m not sure where the flick falls in the echelon of punk or punk inspired movies like Sid & Nancy, Repo Man, Suburbia or Rock ‘n Roll High School, but on my list it’s right there near the top.
Written by the woefully under-rated Nancy Dowd (Slap Shot, Coming Home, Cloak & Dagger – uncredited) and directed by legendary music/film producer/director Lou Adler (Rocky Horror Picture Show, Up in Smoke), the film is probably most notable for helping to kick off Lane’s career as well as managing to wrangle the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones and Paul Cook, alongside Paul Simonon of The Clash to form the backbone of the punk super group The Looters, fronted by Ray Winstone. The Looters are basically an on-screen variation of Jones & Cook’s short-lived, post-Sex Pistols band The Professionals, and their song, aptly titled “Professionals” is the central song to the soundtrack and the plot of the film. The flick also features Vince Welnick and John “Fee” Waybill from The Tubes as a couple of over-the-hill bloated glam/metal rockers in the band The Corpses.
In short the film follows a young all-girl punk band, The Stains (Lane, Laura Dern and Marin Kanter), as they try to escape from the doldrums and depression of a rural suburban town. After catching a local show featuring an up and coming UK punk band the Looters opening for a rundown metal outfit known as the Corpses, the girls talk their way into joining the cross-country tour. Though at first The Stains are essentially ignored or booed off stage, things quickly change as Burns unleashes a side of her personality she had been keeping in check. Donning some fish net stockings, underwear, a see-through blouse and a cut up heavily streaked new hairdo, Burns starts grabbing the mike and in true Patti Smith fashion starts mixing poetry and rage to incense the audiences of the local dive clubs. Before you can blink an eye The Stains start winning over the young girls in the crowds with their new look, and after stealing the Looters one big hit, they single-handedly take over the tour and rocket to superstardom.
Though written as a satire of the music industry with a heavy hand placed on the ignorance and tossing aside of talent over the money-making machine of mass marketable, pre-packaged bands, the strength of the film lies in its ability to capture a decent amount of the nihilism and ennui that pervaded the punk scene of the early 80s. To me it nails that sensibility of pissed off suburban kids who want to scream and shout, lashing out at the over indulgence and commercialism of the previous decade; a time when you only needed to know a couple of chords and how to keep a basic beat, where the passion of the music came from the intensity and anger of the musicians expressing themselves with raw abandon. It’s in the little moments, like at the beginning of the film when an interviewer is questioning Burns (Lane) on her life as an orphan and whether or not she thinks that her views will change as she grows older, to which Burns innocently replies, “Grow older?” Though the music in the film is nowhere near this level per-se, it reminded me of what it was like to hear Black Flag or the Minutemen for the first time and it evoked that feeling that a handful of guys and gals who hand enough talent to play, but who weren’t trying to write commercially viable songs or become the next big thing. Even though the film is aiming to tackle the urge to rise quickly to fame, there’s a punk rock heart at the center that’s impossible to ignore.