Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (1982)

I was fortunate enough to see Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains in 1983 during its VERY limited “art-house” run at Western Washington University. It played along with other punk rock classics such as Lech Kowalski’s D.O.A. and Penelope Spheeris’s Decline of Western Civilization. Unfortunately, I did not appreciate the film at the time. I was a young punk who had these “purist” ideals about what punk was all about. (Didn’t we all?) I completely missed the film’s message against uniformed conformity. The only thing I appreciated about the film was its down-and-out ending with the ultimate demise of Diane Lane’s character.

Recently, at Seattle’s Experience Music Project I (along with a couple hundred other lucky individuals) was treated to a special screening of this nearly forgotten classic.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains is the story of Corrine “Third Degree” Burns (Diane Lane) and her all-girl punk band called The Stains (Laura Dern & Marin Kanter). Initially, The Stains are given a chance to tour backing up a young English punk band The Looters & an old washed up heavy metal act The Metal Corpses. The Looters are Paul Cook & Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and Paul Simonen of The Clash. The Metal Corpses feature Fee “Hey, is there any coke in this coke?” Waybill and Vince Welnick of The Tubes. Eventually The Stains generate a media frenzy, due mainly to Corrine’s transparent blouse and rallying cries like “We’re the Stains and we don’t put out!” and “I’m a waste of time.” They attract a large following of “skunks” – young girls who adopt Corrine’s image as well as attitude.

I’ll stop here to throw a little trivia your way. During the beginning credit sequence, Rob Morton is credited as the writer, but as we all know it was Nancy “Slap Shot” Dowd who actually wrote the screenplay. According to interviews with Dowd, there was sexual harassment on the set with terrible conflicts with the film’s director Lou Adler. After a cameraman grabbed one of Dowd’s breasts, she walked off the set and asked for her name to be stricken from the film. Dowd’s confrontation caused Paramount to stall the release of the film. One year later, Paramount finally showed the film to a test audience (a group of spoiled Orange County brats). The audience whined about the downbeat ending. Waaaaah!!! To fulfill contractual obligations, Paramount released the film to literally a handful of “art houses.”

The Fabulous Stains sat moldering on the shelves at Paramount for a couple of years until the USA channel asked for permission to air the film on their popular late-night show, Night Flight. Paramount agreed, but some brain-dead studio exec wanted to add a “happy ending”. So, Paramount re-shot a confusing MTV style “happy ending” with Diane Lane, Laura Dern and Marin Kanter (THREE YEARS LATER!!!). These scenes are interesting to watch because Laura Dern had grown foot taller since the original filming. She ends up towering over her band-mates! Pretty funny.

More trivia: this will probably be the only time you will see Dangerhouse recording artist/owner (and punk legend!!!) Black Randy and his band, The Metrosquad perform their classic, “I Slept In An Arcade.” Black Randy died of an AIDS related illness after being offered a “dirty” syringe from Dangerhouse partner Dave Brown. In addition, Black Randy portrays a Mexican classical guitarist sneaking into an audition as part of an amusing cameo.

Still more trivia: It is interesting to see the base similarities between Ladies & Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains and Nancy Dowd scripted Slap Shot. Both films’ main characters originate from the dark-dreary steel-mill town of Charlestown and eventually wind up escaping their dead-end lives via tour bus.

Despite the “happy ending,” Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains should be required viewing for all those interested in punk history and to see the film that inspired many “riot-grrl” acts like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Cub, Sleater-Kinney and even Courtney “Hole” Love. Unfortunately, you will probably never see this film unless you buy a bootleg copy of it. It has never been available on video or DVD and Paramount has no plans on releasing it.

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