Directed By: Lou Adler
Starring: Diane Lane, Ray Winstone, Marin Kanter
Tag line: "She can't fool all the fans all of the time ..."
Trivia: Screenwriter Nancy Dowd was unhappy with the final cut of the film, and asked that her name be removed (she was credited as "Rob Morton")
Diane Lane was 15 years old when she starred in Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, a 1982 rock satire directed by musical icon Lou Adler. Co-star Laura Dern, who plays the cousin / bandmate of Lane’s character, was 15 as well, and the movie features a young Ray Winstone (making his U.S. debut) as the lead singer of the fictional British punk band, The Looters. What’s more, some real-life musicians lent their talents to the film, including Fee Waybill, frontman of the ‘80s rock group The Tubes (their hit “She’s a Beauty” remains one of my favorite songs from that era) and two members of The Sex Pistols, Steve Jones and Paul Cook, who also wrote the movie’s best tune. If you don’t blink, you’ll catch a one-second cameo by a pre-Star Trek Brent Spiner (Data in The Next Generation) as the unnamed store manager who fires Lane’s character in front of a television camera, and according to some sources, Scream Queen Debbie Rochon (Tromeo and Juliet, The Theatre Bizarre) made her screen debut in this film (uncredited) as one of the many fans inspired by the lead’s music.
But the question is: thirty-plus years after it was produced, is Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains an effective movie, or, at this point, is it nothing more than a curiosity?
Corrine Burns (Lane), a teenage orphan living in a small Pennsylvania town with her younger sister Tracy (Marin Kanter), has become a media sensation (a news program, doing an exposé on the community she lives in, interviewed her while she was at work, and her comments so infuriated her manager that he fired her on the spot). Asked by reporter Harley Dennis (Peter Donat) what her future plans are, Corrine reveals she’s changed her first name to ‘Third Degree’, and intends to take her band, The Stains, on tour. With Tracy on guitar and their cousin Jessica McNeil (Dern) on the bass, the Stains sign on as one of the opening acts for The Musical Corpses (Fee Waybill is hilarious as the Corpses’ washed-up lead singer), who are currently touring the U.S. with up-and-coming UK punk group, The Looters, which, fronted by lead singer Billy (Winstone), wonders aloud why they bothered traveling to America. Climbing aboard a bus driven by Lawnboy (Barry Ford), a Jamaican trying to raise money to spring his brother from jail, the Stains hit the open road, only to stop in a series of towns every bit as dreary as the one they left behind.
At their first gig, the girls don’t exactly wow the audience with their musical prowess, but Corrine’s wild hair style (jet black with blonde stripes on the side) and revealing costume (a red see-through blouse, no bra, and black stockings) make a big impression. When the guitarist for The Musical Corpses, Jerry Jervey (played by Vince Welnick of The Grateful Dead) dies of an overdose backstage, Corrine, during an interview with news reporter Alicia Meeker (Cynthia Sikes), claims the now-deceased rocker was madly in love with her, and, despite the fact it’s a total lie (Jervey never spoke to Corrine, let alone carried a torch for her), the buzz it generates makes her a star overnight. All at once, The Stains are headlining the tour, and every teen girl across the country is dressing like Corrine and shouting her slogan, “I don’t put out!” But as she and her bandmates will discover, you aren’t a celebrity forever, and in this business, it’s a mistake to trust anyone.
Taking aim at both the media and the fleeting nature of fame, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains tells a unique rags-to-riches story, and though the events play out very quickly (The Stains go from nothings to stars in a matter of days), it still delivers its message loud and clear. As for the cast, Diane Lane’s turn as Corrine wouldn’t rank as one of the actress’s finest performances, but she does have, even at this early stage of her career, a definite screen presence. The standout, however, is Ray Winstone as the angry young singer who, over the course of the movie, learns to both love and despise Corrine. In addition, he and his band, The Looters, perform what is easily the film’s most memorable song, a tune titled “The Professionals” (the Stains themselves cover it at one point). Along with the above, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains boasts a handful of good dramatic sequences, including one in which the girls watch a TV interview with their Aunt (and Jessica’s mother), Linda (Christine Lahti), a scene guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye.
On the downside, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains won’t blow anyone away with its soundtrack; aside from “The Professionals”, the songs are forgettable. What’s more, the romance that develops between Corrine and Billy feels forced, and their relationship as a whole never really clicks (we’re not sure from one minute to the next whether they like each other or not). Worst of all, though, is the tacked-on ending, which betrays much of what went before it.
Still, in the final scheme of things, the film works more often than not. So, to answer the question I posed earlier: Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains is, indeed, a curiosity… and more besides.