If you've seen 1981's Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, you probably watched a lot of late-night cable in the 1980s. Its presence there inspired a cult following, which found punk inspiration in its tale of a teen girl band that briefly makes it big with enthusiastically amateurish anti-consumerist diatribes. The long-overdue DVD release will probably expand that cult. Though Stains is hilariously clueless about the way rock actually works, even though music-industry veteran Lou Adler directed it, the film has a weird integrity, striking and holding a chord designed to resonate with rebels-in-the-making.
It's easy to see how the movie fell through the cracks. The screenplay by Slap Shot and Coming Home writer Nancy Dowd—who pulled her name from the film—has its roots in punk, but by the time of the film's aborted 1981 release, punk's moment as an object of mainstream fascination had already passed. A few years later, a cast that included Diane Lane and Laura Dern might have had some drawing power, but at the time, they were unknown.
They were also 15 and 13 years old, respectively, and their youth helps sell the film's grungy fairy tale. Lane stars as an orphaned Pennsylvania teen who, as the movie opens, has already earned some notoriety as the subject of a TV profile about small-town life, wherein she mentions a largely theoretical band called The Stains, composed of herself, her sister (Marin Kanter), and her cousin (Dern). Their course is set after they watch the British punk band The Looters (led by a young Ray Winstone, fronting Paul Cook and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and Paul Simonon of The Clash) open for an Alice Cooper-inspired washout on a tour of Pennsylvania bars. (As no punk bands did at the time.) With a Shaggs-like gift for performing and an X-Ray Spex-like talent for presentation, The Stains join the bill, becoming a runaway hit after some unusually intense coverage on the local news.
Thus begins the most compressed rock rise-and-fall story ever. Seemingly over the course of a few days, the Stains inspire an army of wannabes, then lose touch with their roots, man. It's a time capsule that remains resonant in spite of the silliness that coats it. "She said things I've always wanted to say and I haven't been able to," one fan says to explain her Stains devotion. That's rock 'n' roll.
Key features: Adler provides a sleepy commentary that's made up for by a fond, lively track from Lane and Dern.