ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. A member of the Society of Authors, she currently works as a ghostwriter of personal memoirs for Story Terrace London and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics.
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An underappreciated gem of a film that plays almost like a documentary, Ladies and Gentlemen the Fabulous Stains stars a very young Diane Lane as Corrine “Third-Degree Burns”, Marin Kanter as Tracy and Laura Dern as Jessica. Three disenfranchised working-class American teenagers who start an all-girl punk band to escape their bleak, futureless lives in rural Pennsylvania. They quickly find themselves on tour with a past their sell-date English band The Metal Corpses and English punk support band The Looters, composed of real-life punk legends Paul Simonon (bassist for The Clash), Paul Cook and Steve Jones (drummer and guitarist from The Sex Pistols) and baby-faced Ray Winstone, who convincingly plays illiterate vocalist Billy in one of his earliest roles.
The performances and scenarios are pitch-perfect in every way, accurately representing both how punk quickly overtook their over-produced metal predecessors and how management manipulation, and the potential to earn large sums of money caused bands like The Sex Pistols to self-implode. One of the film’s best characters–Lawn Boy, the Rastafarian bus driver played by Barry Ford. He represents not only conviction in the face of success, but the often-overlooked (by Americans, anyway) connection between Reggae and punk in its infancy in the UK. Kudos to director Lou Adler for doing his homework. The fashions (with help of consultant Caroline Coon) are as spot-on as are the nihilistic attitudes of the main three characters, who learn to navigate the perils of a rock ‘n roll lifestyle while gaining a cult teen-girl following. The band’s fans enthusiastically embrace their feminist message, “We don’t put out,” only to abandon them when it looks like they’ve been conned into buying a manufactured product.
The film’s finale, where we see the Stains transform into something akin to the Go-Go’s (a band whose career followed a strikingly similar trajectory) was added two years after filming wrapped, giving it a happier ending than was originally intended. It’s a powerhouse of music and performances for a cast so young. More than worthy of its current cult status, the film holds up as a perfect fictional rendering of a true-life short time period that gave us some of the best music ever made.