Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains

Lou Adler | 1981 | 87 min. | US

The Fabulous Stains starts so jarringly that you get the feeling you've missed a scene. Maybe even an entire reel. Unfortunately, that feeling never lets up. As the film bounces from scene to scene you are repeatedly faced with nagging sense that it keeps forgetting to show you key moments. Maybe its possessive. Maybe its senile. Whatever the excuse, the tagline for The Fabulous Stains should be, "Hold on. . . why is she. . . what?"

To be fair, The Fabulous Stains had its work cut out for it. The film was faced with a very difficult task in 1981: simultaneously trying to cash in on and critique the commercial success of punk and new wave. The Stains are a trio of teenage girls headed by a fresh-faced Diane Lane in her debut role as magnetic Corinne "Third Degree" Burns. When the girls have the chance to join an upstart punk band on tour they jump at the opportunity. Soon after hitting the road a chance interview with Burns appears on the national news. She instantly inspires a (suburban teen) cult of personality who begin showing up to the bands increasingly large shows in full hero worshiping costume. But will Corinne handle the sudden success with aplomb? Will she stay true to her friends as the spotlight focuses on her? Will her awful, awful music stay pure? Important issues, to be sure.

In addition to Diane Lane, the film includes the very young faces of Ray Winstone and Laura Dern, as well. All three are charming, even if they can't come close to approaching the desperation and urgency we are supposed to feel from their characters. Rounding out Winstone's band, The Looters, are Paul Cook and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and Paul Simonon of the Clash. Cred alert!

The problem with Stains is that the Corinne and her band come off as such myopic opportunists that you could not care less what happens to them. More than that, the success or failure of teenagers who have been playing lousy music for about a month carries little gravity. The film only satisfies as an artefact of the early eighties which, of course, is not very satisfying at all.

Director Lou Adler has only made two films: Up In Smoke, the massively successful Cheech and Chong vehicle, and Stains. So basically this is the movie that murdered his career. He wasn't able to sustain the momentum of a one-joke dope comedy. That's how unimpressive this is. File this one under, "Answers to Trivia Questions."


Michael said...

But would, you recommend it to someone mildly obsessed with the lovely Laura Dern? Might he find something of worth within its frustrating frames?

aaron said...

Laura Dern doesn't get anywhere near the screen time her retroactive top billing would lead one to believe, so probably no. Its difficult for me to guess your level of obsession, though. Also, she was thirteen in this movie.

It is perhaps worth a watch to scratch an itch for Diane Lane, however. She was a beautiful and very mature fifteen years old at the time of filming.

Michael said...

Oh, shit! I had no idea that they were that young! That's funny.

Wait. Does Laura Dern act older? Like, could she pass for fifteen in the movie?

Just kidding. Thanks for the review as I've been hearing lots of cult talk on this forever so you saved me some time.

aaron said...

Ha! Yeah, I think Dern does play fifteen or sixteen. Still, its only Lane who has the air of world weary experience.

I think the only reason why it has attained cult status is because of it's aborted initial release and the slate of punk cameos. I'm sure some people are under the impression The Man has been keeping some great, subversive work from us, but just because its buried doesn't mean its treasure. There's a short doc I found the other day that you'd probably find more interesting than the film itself: