Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (1981)

“The Fabulous Stains” is the classic story of a movie that was pushed in to the margins and rose to become one of the most elusive cult classics of all time. This is the classic story of how sometimes movies can avoid being cast out in to obscurity because of a strong fan base. “The Fabulous Stains” is a very strong rock and roll drama about the rise and fall of a band known as the Stains due to dubious circumstances. The drama originally tested poorly in audience screening, and the studios basically released it in a limited run, and the movie was almost never heard from again. That is until it began to replay over and over on late night cable television in America, and often on the legendary rock show “Nightflight.” Over the years, the movie’s repeated airings earned it a huge cult following. Especially from young women that viewed “The Fabulous Stains” as something of a statement about owning their sexuality.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains” is quite a great rock and roll drama, and one that is dominated by a very young Diane Lane. Lane just completely makes the movie her own from the moment we see her cherubic teenage face puffing on a cigarette in defiance of a reporter who proclaims, in disgust, that her mother died of lung cancer from cigarettes. Lane as Corrine Burns, is the typical angry youth who has seen too much too soon and has little luster for life. When presented with more optimistic options for life, including an education, she is content with her workaday job in fast food, and has accepted her fate of supporting her family on minimum wage. She is simply another teenager looking for an outlet for her immense frustration. After catching a performance of the punk band the Looters, Corrine, her cousin and best friend (Marin Kanter and Laura Dern) form the female punk band the Stains.

Before long it’s an uphill battle to be taken seriously, as Corrine and her band mates learn firsthand what it’s like to travel across the country touring for very fickle punk audiences. When one of the band’s members dies from an overdose, Corrine takes advantage of the incidental connection, prompting something of a boom in the reputation and appeal of The Stains. Corrine and the group eventually have to ponder on whether their rise to fame is because of the statement they’re making about their sexuality with their music, or if they’re merely a flash in the pan. As they fall under scrutiny of a very uptight media, and their punk rock contemporaries, Corrine fights to maintain the credibility of The Stains. Lane as Corrine is certainly a powerful protagonist who is so much better than what the movie entails.

There are also some great turns by a very young Laura Dern, and Ray Winstone, who is very good as Corrine’s chief adversary and hard working punk rocker Billy. The narrative as a whole is a bit far fetched, and is not so much a chronicle as it is a story stretched over a few months. But the overall message about rebellion and a movement about sexual freedom breeding inadvertent conformity is strong. Much in the way Corrine is celebrated by her fans is eerily prophetic of Madonna’s popularity in the mid-eighties. There’s also a still relevant statement about women’s sexuality, and how what they wear isn’t an invitation for sex. Not to mention the struggles women still have in rock and roll to be taken seriously by their contemporaries. “The Fabulous Stains” is a definite gem that deserves more discovering by rock and music buffs.