Q: “Why exactly did Paramount bury it?”
A: “Well, I think the real question is, why was it even made?”
Nick Schager interviewing Lou Adler for IFC News, September 2008
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (1982)
Directed by Lou Adler
Written by Nancy Dowd (as Rob Morton)
Produced by Joe Roth
For those who always wanted to find a time capsule buried in their backyard, or possibly stashed beneath the floorboard of their home, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains comes closer to capturing that sense of handcrafted wonder, impeccable historical detail and genuine surprise than just about any movie of the 1980s. Like a tin bin containing dime store knick knacks and faded newspaper clippings, this eclectic hybrid of music drama and chick empowerment vehicle lacks anything in the way of lavish production value. Much of its speedy 87 minutes feels duct taped together from different script drafts, reshoots and test screenings, but strangely, nothing could feel more true to the film’s punk rock aesthetic than a film with the sound of a worn out amp resold at a Pittsburgh pawn shop.
Diane Lane — 15 years young when shooting commenced in March 1980 — plays Corinne “Third Degree” Burns, an orphaned teen stuck with sister “Dee Peleted” (Marin Kanter) and cousin “Dizzy Heights” (Laura Dern) in their Pennsylvania steel town. Corrine catches British punk band The Looters as they pass through and implores their irascible lead singer Billy (Ray Winstone) for an audition. The Stains get their break from a Jamaican tour manager (Barry Ford), who hopes the girls distract Billy from exterminating the headliner, a one-hit rock relic from the ’70s named Lou Corpse (Fee Waybill). Corrine makes up for zero musical ability with a fuck you attitude, provocative hair/makeup and a feminist point of view, declaring “We’re The Stains and we don’t put out!” TV exposure swells the band’s disaffected female fanbase, but ignoring Billy’s advice, Corrine makes all the wrong decisions for the very first time.
After the success of Slap Shot in 1977, Paramount Pictures offered screenwriter Nancy Dowd a two-script deal. Dowd wanted to write about girls in a steel town who liberate themselves through punk rock. Introducing her to that scene was Caroline Coon, an artist who’d briefly managed The Clash; the studio would retain Coon as creative consultant and costume designer for what Dowd had titled All Washed Up. To direct, Paramount offered the project to Lou Adler, a record producer who’d worked with The Mamas & The Papas and Carole King and hit pay dirt at the picture show in 1978 with Cheech & Chong’s Up In Smoke. Dowd would later strip her name from the credits — citing sexual harassment on the set in Vancouver — but what doomed the film was a calamitous test screening in Denver. Now titled Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, it became a staple on USA Network’s zombie schedule in the late ’80s but wasn’t available on home video until 2008, when Rhino Entertainment distributed the DVD.
Whether by strict design or happy accident — Dowd received an Academy Award for co-writing Coming Home, while Adler never directed again — Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains taps into an agitated rhythm, buzzing the two bit dives of the Rust Belt with bumblebee’s pace and never losing its sting. In addition to performances by Diane Lane and Laura Dern that feel both surly and vulnerable, the sublime cast is led by a cherub faced Ray Winstone. Former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook (who together wrote three songs for the soundtrack) comprise an all-star punk band in The Looters, along with Paul Simonon from The Clash on bass. Playing tour manager, Barry Ford brings both diversity and a sense of truth to the story, which neither advocates coloring inside the lines or ripping up the paper purely for anarchy’s sake.
Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 1,325 users: 64% for Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains
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