I pity the kids who didn’t grow up watching Night Flight. While the rest of the teenage world was out getting drunk and laid from 1981 to 1988 (although syndicated repeats would last until 1996), I was parked in front of the TV, soaking up the knowledge that would lead to lifelong obsessions in music and media.
Night Flight also curated movies that otherwise would never find an audience or ones that had simply disappeared. From the two Andy Warhol horror films to The Brain, Daughters of Darkness and Pink Flamingoes to Fantastic Planet, The Kentucky Fried Movie and Liquid Sky, the show brought incredibly strange films that even the largest video stores might not carry directly into my home. For a kid trapped in a cultural desert an hour from Pittsburgh — hardly a media force save for being the center of zombie movies — Night Flight kept me going.
Set in the fictional town of Charlestown, Pennsylvania (the same place that writer Nancy Dowd also covered in her film Slap Shot), Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains feels like my hometown. It’s the kind of movie that demands to be seen, one that should have never been derailed by a disastrous screening in Colorado.
Corinne Burns (an incendiary Diane Lane, who is also perfect in Streets of Fire) is already a star as the movie begins. She struggles to support herself and her sister and when she’s interviewed by a local TV station, she lashes out and gets fired by her boss. Teenage viewers fall in love with her and in a follow-up interview, she’s even more belligerent and sarcastic.
Corinne attends a Metal Corpses concert put on by small-time promoter Lawnboy where she’s amazed by a punk band called the Looters. The two bands could not be more different and they’re at constant war, so Lawnboy brings The Stains — Corinne’s band with her sister and cousin — on tour to act as a buffer.
The first show goes horribly. The girls can barely play and Corinne yells at the audience in a near-monotone voice before flipping out on them. Then, the Corpses bassist OD’s in the women’s bathroom. Corinne takes advantage of the media, claiming that he died of a broken heart, knowing that he could never have her. She claims that she never puts out and debuts a new look — streaked hair, pink war paint and see-through clothing — that is soon imitated by female fans.
The media falls in love with her, with men hammering her antisocial attitude and lack of talent while women see them as female empowerment. Girls start running away from home to follow the band. Meanwhile, the Looters frontman Billy shares his illiteracy and feelings behind his song “Join the Professionals” as an attempt to seduce Corinne. They make out in a hotel room shower, but does our heroine really put out? Does she simply fall in love and run away with the rock star?
Their romance soon falls apart when an agent reveals that Billy wanted The Stains replaced on the tour. Corinne goes from blood when she steals the very song Billy confided in her about and makes it her first single. Things happen fast — maybe too fast, one of the few bad things I have to say about this movie — and the girl become the headliners and cut out Lawnboy.
At the Stains’ first show as the new lead band, Billy incites a riot by convincing the band’s followers that The Stains have become corporate sell-outs. The agent cancels their contract after the concert falls apart, but Corinne gets paid by threatening the man with a can opener, a movie she learned from Billy.
After one last TV appearance, where a male journalist laughs at her, Billy apologizes and asks for her to come back. She refuses, wandering the streets until she finds a group of girls with guitars, all listening to her sing on the radio.
That’s where this movie should end.
Dowd was unsatisfied with the editing and final cut of the film, which led to her changing her name on the final credits. She was also groped by a camera operator on set, which only added to her dissatisfaction with this movie. The tacked on ending — where The Stains have become an MTV success on Lawnboy’s new record label — seems glittery and polished and at odds with every moment of the film’s grit.
The music is great, though. That’s because other than The Stains (Lane, Laura Dern and Marin Kanter), they’re all real bands. The Looters have actor Ray Winstone as Billy, but otherwise are an all-star punk lineup with Pail Simonon from The Clash on bass and Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook on guitar and drums. The Metal Corpses have Fee Waybill and Vince Welnick from The Tubes as members. And Black Randy and The Metrosquad also show up.
This movie was directed by Lou Adler, who is also a Grammy Award-winning record producer, music executive, talent manager, songwriter, film producer, and co-owner of the famous Roxy Theatre. He produced and developed Jan & Dean, The Mamas & The Papas and Carole King, including producing her record Tapestry, which is considered one of the all-time greatest albums of all time.
Adler also guided the careers of Cheech and Chong, working on their albums and then producing and directing Up In Smoke. He also produced The Rocky Horror Picture Show and its sequel, Shock Treatment, before this film.
My favorite scene in the film is when Christine Lahti, playing Jessica’s mom, is asked about her daughter and nieces on TV. Instead of piling scorn on top of the girls, she instead relates how much she misses her sister and how proud she is of her daughter for rising out of the cycle of abuse where every woman in their family has been told that they’re nothing.
The only other issue I have with this film is that the camera seems to linger with the male gaze on the young bodies of Lane and her fans. It seems to want to titilate and provide female empowerment at the very same time. That said — it’s hard to watch a movie made in 1982 and force it to conform to the morals we’ve learned nearly three decades later.
We featured Ladies and Gentleman, the Fabulous Stains — with a second look — as part of our weekly “Drive-In Friday” featurettes with a tribute to the old USA Network’s “Night Flight” programming block from the ’80s.