Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: The excellent Green Room has thinking about some of the best punk rock movies.
Punk and fashion have always gone hand-in-hand, and when it comes to commanding an army of restless teenagers, attitude is everything. And what the title band from 1982’s Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains—led by a 16-year-old Diane Lane, with 15-year-old Laura Dern on bass—lacks in musical prowess, it more than makes up for in style. The result is an underground classic, overflowing with Rust Belt nihilism and proto-riot-grrrl feminist posturing. Directed by Rocky Horror Picture Show producer Lou Adler, Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains was completed in 1982, but was shelved after a disastrous preview screening. It never received a proper theatrical release, and aside from the occasional late-night TV showing or arthouse repertory screening, remained a frequently bootlegged niche phenomenon before finally officially coming out on DVD in the late ’00s.
Lane stars as Corinne Burns, who uses her 15 minutes of fame in a news interview segment on her dying working-class town to announce that her name is no longer Corinne, it’s “Third Degree,” and she’s the singer and manager of The Stains. (Set in Pennsylvania, the movie was actually shot in British Columbia, whose smokestacks and gray skies form a convincing enough substitute.) Rallying her cousin Jessica (Dern) and sister Tracy (Marin Kanter), Corinne manages to get the Stains—who don’t even have a drummer, let alone a record out—booked on a tour with up-and-coming English punks The Looters (played by a young Ray Winstone along with members of the Sex Pistols and The Clash) and washed-up misogynist glam rockers The Metal Corpses (whose ranks include two members of San Francisco art-punk group The Tubes).
Completely unprepared for their first gig, Corinne, newly transformed with her soon-to-be-signature skunk-stripe hair and sheer red blouse, grabs the mic and launches into an angry rant directed at the women in the audience. “Suckers! Suckers! They’ve got such big plans for the world, but they don’t include us,” she snarls. “So what does that make you? Just another girl lining up to die.” Thus begins The Stains’ meteoric rise to stardom, propelled by an army of teenage fans who refer to themselves as “Skunks” and adopt Corinne’s stage outfit as their uniform. Without an album, The Stains’ fame is largely driven by the media-savvy Corinne, who’s always ready with sound bites like “I think every citizen should be given an electric guitar on her 16th birthday” and what eventually becomes the band’s catchphrase: “We’re The Stains, and we don’t put out.”
Whether she’s preaching to the “Skunks” about how marriage sucks or casually undercutting Winstone’s attempt to light her cigarette by pulling out a lighter and sparking her own, Lane’s Corinne is, well, punk as fuck. And although the movie is more than 30 years old, her message of defiant self-determination—The Stains stand for the right to dress and act however you want and still be left alone—echoes contemporary critiques of slut shaming. For this, and for its surprisingly thoughtful meditation on the countercultural obsession with authenticity (something director Ti West praises in his Trailers From Hell segment on the film), Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains is a cult classic whose time has come.
Availability: Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains is available on DVD from Netflix, Amazon, or possibly your local video store/library. It’s also streaming for free on Amazon Prime, and can be rented or purchased from the major digital services.