Cross-posted at the FilmLinc blog
For a film that fell straight into the midnight TV movie lineup upon its 1981 release, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains has certainly clawed its way up to the ranks of cult classic over the years. Credited as an early predecessor to the riot grrrl movement – Bikini Kill drummer Tobi Vail once called it “the most realistic and profound film [she had] ever seen” – the film follows 15 year-old Corinne ‘Third Degree’ Burns and her band, the Fabulous Stains, as they go on tour with a brash English punk band (members of The Clash and Sex Pistols moonlighting) and an aging American rocker unsuccessfully attempting to channel Gene Simmons. For what the film lacks in coherence – plotlines flare and fizzle, serious family issues are left unaddressed, and the ending is nothing short of completely bewildering – as a snapshot of the early stirrings of punk rock and fuck-you feminism, The Fabulous Stains is a resounding success.
In classic Hollywood rags-to-riches formula, after a disastrous first performance at a seedy local bar, the band suddenly takes off, generating an army of prepubescent fans united behind a common rallying cry: “We’re The Stains, and we don’t put out!” (Regardless, we soon find out at least one of them does). Concert scenes and tour montages are punctuated by one of the film’s most bizarre features – a pair of talking heads who spar over the band’s role in corrupting America’s girls. Trying desperately to impose a message onto The Stains’ success, the newscasters serve as a welcome source of comic relief, and inadvertently reveal both the band and the film’s most punk rock quality: the refusal to accommodate anybody’s expectations.