Sunday, February 5, 2012

Short Take: Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains, directed by Lou Adler from a script by Nancy Dowd, is the definition of a sleeper film. All but entirely shot in early 1980, and barely released to theaters a couple of years later, it found a cult audience through a handful of late-night cable-TV showings. Despite a substantial underground reputation, it didn’t receive a proper video release until 2008. Looking at the picture now, it seems an almost quintessential film of its time. A 15-year-old Diane Lane plays an orphaned Pennsylvania girl who starts a band with her younger sister (Marin Kanter) and their cousin (Laura Dern). The trio joins a low-rent tour featuring a washed-up metal act and an up-and-coming English punk group. Despite being barely able to play a note, they become a regional phenomenon. Lane’s character appears on stage as the prototypical Riot grrrl: flamboyant make-up and clothes, an even more flamboyant “skunk” hairstyle, and attitude a mile wide. Thanks to some chance television exposure, she inspires a legion of teenage girls who copy her look and persona. They eventually turn on her as just another rip-off fad. The film is far from perfect. Dowd’s script (credited to her pseudonym Rob Morton) is either truncated or undeveloped in its treatment of the trio’s rise and (particularly) their fall. The handling of the romance between Lane’s character and the punk band’s lead singer (a babyface-handsome Ray Winstone) is similarly unsatisfactory. The low budget also shows, especially with the poorly matched post-synching sound levels in the dialogue scenes. Yet the film feels remarkably true to its subject matter. It captures the anger, desperation, and go-for-broke dreaming that fired the punk movement. Diane Lane’s performance is one of the definitive movie portraits of adolescence. Winstone and Christine Lahti, who plays the Lane character’s aunt, are almost as impressive. The other members of the Winstone character’s band are played by Paul Cook and Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols and The Clash's Paul Simonon; the group's two numbers are sensational. The closing sequence, shot two years after the rest of the film, is a terrific pastiche of early-80s music video.

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