Take a walk down memory lane with Diane Lane.
The Academy Award-nominated beauty (Unfaithful) was only 15 years old when she played Corinne “Third-Degree” Burns in Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, a film about three young girls who form a punk rock group and get their 15 minutes of fame before crashing and burning out.
Shot in 1980, The Fabulous Stains is set for a DVD release on September 16 by Rhino, which is heralding the movie as a “lost classic” to kick off its new Rock ‘N’ Roll Cinema line. And while it’s a snapshot of an era when punk soon morphed into New Wave and might have contributed indirectly to the rise of such popular and phenomenal female artists as Joan Jett, the Go-Go’s, Cyndi Lauper, and, yes, Madonna, the movie is anything but a classic.
After all, the film received only a very limited theatrical release in 1981, then vanished. Lane made her acting debut alongside Sir Laurence Olivier two years earlier in A Little Romance , which landed her on the cover of Time magazine. She became a teen queen in the early ’80s, appearing in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, then as sexy rock ‘n’ roll queen Ellen Aim in Streets of Fire, Walter Hill’s terrific rock ‘n’ roll fable. Her career continues to thrive, and at the end of the month she can be seen in Nights in Rodanthe with Richard Gere, her co-star in The Cotton Club and Unfaithful. Look for a review of Rodanthe later in the week.
Lane’s success before the age of 20 probably had a lot to do with unleashing The Fabulous Stains on the public again. As burgeoning cable networks like USA were looking for anything to program, The Fabulous Stains soon found its way onto Night Flight, the trend-setting show that picked up movies regarded as cult favorites.
Spin magazine recently labeled it the “greatest rock movie never seen,” but I beg to differ. Being a huge Diane Lane fan, I did see it in the ’80s but must say I was disappointed. If any Lane rock movie should be considered a classic, it’s Streets of Fire. Fortunately, the DVD release of The Fabulous Stains isn’t all bad. In fact, there’s a feature that makes this worth your time and money (more on that below).
As Corinne, Lane might not be someone you envision as a trash-talking, chain-smoking runaway-turned-lead singer (if you can call that singing) who likes to tell anyone who'll listen, "We don't put out!" And her acting chops were just developing, but her red, see-though blouse, fishnet stockings, outrageous makeup, and two-toned skunk hairdo were the stars of this show.
The movie also predates by three years This is Spinal Tap, but could have traveled down that very same road had it not taken such a serious approach. The Stains learn that life on a beat-up tour bus with a reggae-loving Jamaican driver named Lawnboy is anything but glamorous, unlike the picture Cameron Crowe painted years later in Almost Famous. An outrageous appearance by The Tubes’ Fee Waybill (listed in the credits with the first name John), as an over-the-hill, Gene Simmons-like glam rocker named Lou Corpse (of The Metal Corpses), right, could have fit right into Spinal Tap’s hilarious parody of the heavy-metal genre.
And while it’s not as bleak as Sid and Nancy, the depressing story of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious, it does have its share of sex, drugs, and vitriol. In fact, two members of the Sex Pistols, Steve Jones and Paul Cook, co-wrote some of the film’s music and appear with The Clash’s Paul Simonon as members of the Looters, an on-the-rise English outfit fronted by Ray Winstone. Today a brilliant character actor (Jack Nicholson’s right-hand thug in The Departed), Winstone is a revelation in The Fabulous Stains. The gifted Brit is all snarl and spit but may be hiding a kind soul. He makes one yearn more for the late, great Joe Strummer than John Lydon. Winstone’s scenes with Lane, first as a mentor, then a tormentor, are the best in the film.
There also are fine performances from other character actors who later achieved success. Christine Lahti, as Burns’ Aunt Linda, looks stunning, all Farrah Fawcett hair and makeup, as the disenchanted, hard-drinking mother of The Stains’ bassist, played by a 13-year-old Laura Dern. While her girl and nieces flee, Aunt Linda stays stuck seemingly forever in Johnstown, PA, wondering what happened with her life.
David Clennon is perfect as slimy agent Dave Robell, who takes the girls under his wing and plans to make them famous (and fabulous) until the crowds turn on them. He does, too, telling Corinne, “I don’t want to be cruel, but you were just a concept.”
The movie was directed by Lou Adler (Cheech & Chong’s Up In Smoke), perhaps known outside Hollywood more for his record producing and appearances alongside friend Jack Nicholson in front-row seats at Los Angeles Lakers games.
Was his film an indictment of the music business, the way the media manipulates us by continually pushing “The Next Big Thing” whether we want it or not, or just an excuse to hang with some foxy babes and party hearty with a couple of punk icons? See for yourself.
Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains is rated R.
Running time: 88 minutes.
No deleted scenes, trivia games or extended concert performances are found. A photo gallery (stills from the movie) and Adler’s commentary are rudimentary. But the commentary track from Lane and Dern, who also went on to become an Oscar-nominated actress (Rambling Rose), is worth the price of the DVD alone.
Twenty-eight years after filming began, they take us back on a nostalgic joy ride. They chat and giggle like giddy schoolgirls, reveal old secrets, trade gossip and even make fun of themselves for their roles in a film that, thankfully, wasn’t their crowning achievement.
Among the gems:
• Lane, on seeing herself in the opening scene: “Who is that embryo? Look at my little pimples. I’m looking at my daughter now, basically.”
• Lane, who constantly imitates Winstone’s thick Cockney accent throughout the commentary, on her co-star’s recent appearance in the latest Indiana Jones movie: “(He makes) Harrison Ford look young.”
• Dern, watching Waybill’s washed-up character and commenting on the adage What’s old is new again: “By the way, if you hang in there … if this is any sort of tribute to Gene Simmons and Kiss … they have more lasting power than anybody.”
• Lane, on her singing skills (or lack thereof): “The (original) name of this film was All Washed Up, which I said I would be when it came out.”
What You Might Not Know
• Winstone appeared and sang in the film version of The Who’s Quadrophenia in 1979.
• Another connection with The Who: The Stains’ climactic concert, shot in Vancouver, used members of an audience waiting to see Pete Townshend, Roger Daltry & Co. perform later that evening.
• Another member of The Tubes, the late Vince Welnick, who was also a keyboardist with the Grateful Dead and Todd Rundgren, plays Jerry Jervey, The Metal Corpses bassist who dies of a drug overdose in a bathtub.
• Lane’s on-site tutor had a bit part in the film.
• Bob Geldof, then with the Boomtown Rats, gave the girls a music lesson after their initial stage appearance in the movie.
• Lane, Dern and Marin Kanter, who played Lane’s sister and Stains’ guitarist Tracy Burns, were brought back two years later to film a Go-Go’s-style music video that runs through the end credits.
What’s your favorite fictional movie about rock ‘n’ roll (rock docs don't count)?
- Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains
- Almost Famous
- American Graffiti
- Hedwig and the Angry Inch
- Purple Rain
- Streets of Fire
- The Girl Can’t Help It
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show
- This Is Spinal Tap
- Velvet Goldmine
Do you have another choice? Add your comments down below.