I first saw “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains” on late night cable in the mid 80’s. I loved the music as I was just digging Punk and getting into New Wave. The more adult themes went over my head but I got the gist – the conflict between men and women in the music business and how media can build up and tear down stars.
I had wanted to see the film again but until 2008 it was still only available if it were shown on TV or if someone had a copy from a previous TV showing. The studio finally released a DVD of a restored print and I fell in love with it all over again.
Diane Lane, 15 at the time, plays the leader of The Stains, “Third Degree” Burns. Laura Dern, 13 at the time, plays Third Degree’s cousin and bassist “Peg”. The British punk band The Stains hang out on tour with is made up of members of the Sex Pistols and The Clash and fronted by Ray Winstone. Fee Waybill of The Tubes plays a hasbeen metal band singer. Christine Lahti, who plays Lane’s Aunt and Dern’s mother, kills in the two short scenes she’s in. Other notable cast members are David Clennon, Cynthia Sikes, Elizabeth Daily, and an uncredited Brent Spiner. The film was directed by Lou Adler who had directed “Up in Smoke” and was written by Nancy Dowd who had written “Slap Shot”.
Diane Lane shows once again her raw untrained talent in only her 3rd film at the time. Laura Dern also looks natural in her role. Along with Lahti, Waybill also turns in a great performance.
The film does a good job of showing one part of the rough and tumble music business before the MTV era. It’s rough around the edges with some cringe worthy scenes and stiff dialogue but overall it makes its gritty point about the nature of show business and the media and about gender roles. The happy ending that was filmed 2 years after initial filming fits in that it reminded me of the rise of the group “The Go-Go’s” They had started in the punk scene and moved into the new MTV scene and got the same make over “The Stains” get in the final scene.
The film has reached cult status not only from the late night cable showings and lack of a previous home release but also because it influenced future women singers most notably Courtney Love.
As noted before the film is jagged but Lou Adler made sure the music was as polished as possible to be heard. That of course is what is important – the music and the message.
*Side Note* If you are an “Old Fart” now and want to reminisce about the film and the time of the story, listen to the commentary by Diane Lane and Laura Dern on the DVD. They were a bonus and added to the value of the disc.