Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains
Veteran record producer Lou Adler gets most attention these days for his frequent appearances on VH1’s “Behind the Music.” But he dabbled in films, as well, producing The Rocky Horror Picture Show and directing the first Cheech & Chong movie, Up in Smoke. His second film as a director, 1981’s Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, was shelved by Paramount. Instead, it received its widest exposure from frequent mid-eighties airings on the fledgling USA Network’s weekend “Night Flight” program. It remains a classic of punk rock girl cinema.
After appearing on a “60 Minutes” type show during a segment on her dying Pennsylvania town, surly teen Corrine “Third Degree” Burns (Diane Lane) still craves the spotlight. With her cousin, Jessica (Laura Dern), and sister, Tracy (Marin Kanter), Corrine launches a punk rock band, the Stains. Three rehearsals later (“but they were real long ones!”), the Stains appear on a follow-up segment on the TV newsmagazine and score the opening slot on a seedy cross-country tour with heavy metal burn-outs, the Metal Corpses (led by Fee Waybill of the Tubes), and Brit punkers, the Looters (comprised of Ray Winstone and real-life punk pioneers Paul Simonon from the Clash, and Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols).
Adler has the Stains’ TV debut and those rehearsals take place off screen, so we aren’t exposed to their act until opening night. To say they suck doesn’t begin to describe their sound. But Corrine’s see-through tops and “we don’t put out!” motto intrigues TV reporter Alicia Meeker (Cynthia Sikes). After several profiles on Meeker’s news program, the Stains are cult heroes to a mob of alienated teen girls who follow them from show to show, copy their skunk-stripe hairdos and lingerie outfits, and, most importantly, spend tons of dough on Stains merchandise.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains gets credited a lot with prefiguring the riot grrrl scene of a few years back. The film plays like a before-the-fact parody of the whole movement. Adler and screenwriter Nancy Dowd (using her nom de plume, Rob Morton) nail their intended satirical targets, from TV news to the rock scene, from teen angst to rampant consumerism, with dark, cruel humor. As Corrine, Diane Lane has her showiest role as one of the coldest, least sympathetic characters ever to be the protagonist of a teen movie. She never worries about making Corrine likable and under-plays the handful of scenes where Corrine actually shows a glimmer of humanity. And while Stains never becomes the Dr. Strangelove of rock movies it could have been, the wonderfully cynical epilogue captures what the eighties were ultimately about.
According to the end credits, a soundtrack album was released on Adler’s Ode records, preserving such painful Stains anthems as “Waste of Time” and “Professionals” (the Looters take on “Professionals,” written by Cook and Jones is a cool punk-pop nugget).
Tail Lights Fade
Who better to bring the road movie to the twenty-first century with tires squealing than the greatest yahoo actor working today, Jake Busey? Especially when he’s got fellow Starship Trooper Denise Richards riding shotgun. Unfortunately, they’re just the supporting players in 1999’s Tail Lights Fade. This isn’t an ass-kicking joyride but one of those “indie” movies... Kevin Smith even gets credit as “executive advisor.“ When Angie’s (Tanya Allen) brother gets busted for marijuana possession in Vancouver, she convinces boyfriend Cole (Breckin Meyer) to drive up with her to help her sibling out. Once Cole’s hot-rodding pal Bruce (Busey) gets word of the road trip, he and his girlfriend Wendy (Richards) convince Cole and Angie to turn the trip into a race, with both teams vandalizing and photographing landmarks at predetermined checkpoints to prove they were there. This great, obnoxious concept is abandoned when the gang finds out that Angie’s brother has his own growhouse. At this point the race’s stakes become the growhouse contents: ten kilos of pot.
Director Malcolm Ingram (one-time Canadian editor of Film Threat Magazine) and writer Matt Gissing are more interested in the character than the action, which would be fine if Cole and Angie weren’t the clichéd twenty-something crybabies with whom too many independent filmmakers are obsessed. Prepare yourself for lots of talk about Angie’s troubles getting into a good grad school and Cole’s inability to grow-up and become responsible. Busey and Richards seem like they’re in another movie. When Kitty (Lisa Marie, gal pal of Tim Burton) shows up for a few scenes as a small town drag-racing waitress who challenges Bruce to a side race, it just proves that car chases are still a lot more fun to watch than non-stop whining.