The other day, I heard an announcement on XM radio saying Belinda Carlisle had a recurring show where she was spinning LA punk from the late 70s and early 80s. When they mentioned Carlisle, I first thought of her career as an adult contemporary pop singer, and I thought that was an unusual choice to host such a show. I also happened to reveal my true feelings about that type of music when I accidentally mistyped a key word in that previous sentence as “contemptorary”.
Anywho, I then remembered her earlier work fronting The Go-Gos and that band was part of that LA punk scene. Not to slight that group’s pop turn once they signed to a major label, but it is hard to believe that started out as a key part of that underground scene.
I mention all this as introduction to Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains because this is a movie that takes place in that era and follows the quick rise, and even faster fall, of an all-girl group.
A 15-year-old Diane Lane fronts the titular Stains. The movie starts with a 60 Minutes type program where she is being interviewed as a follow-up to an earlier, wildly popular segment wherein she quit her fast-food job on-air. Another fake news show will be used as a framing device through the rest of the film, providing a sort of narration or Greek chorus. I thought it odd this is a local news program with a correspondent who follows the band’s progress around the country, but I enjoyed the movie enough to put it out of mind.
Lane’s bandmates are her sister and a cousin, played by Marin Kanter and Laura Dern, respectively. I don’t know which one, Lane or Dern, was weirder to see so young and made-up as punk rockers.
The band they initially support on their rise to fame are The Looters. This is a fake band in a major studio (Paramount) production, so it is shocking how good they are. But then this is a fake band with some serious credentials, as it is composed of Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook, with Paul Simonon of The Clash on bass and Ray Winstone on vocals. And I already think I need to walk back my earlier statement about how strange it is so see Lane and Dern in this—they can’t hold a candle to how weird it is to see the star of Sexy Beast so young, thin and full of righteous anger.
I don’t think it is spoiling anything to say the band’s meteoric rise has a corresponding, precipitous fall. For that matter, why do we even have the term “meteoric rise”? Since when do meteors fall up?
There is much in this movie to recommend it. Probably the best aspect of it is everything has a ring of truth to it. This is still a movie and it adheres to certain conventions, but so much of it feels like an approximation of the trials many artists have been through (perhaps even an amalgamation of the experiences of numerous artists). I was not surprised to later learn it is a favorite movie of many real-life rockers.
Unreleased theatrically in its own time, Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains gained a cult following over the decades through late-late-night cable airings and multiple-generation tape copies. Somehow, it feels appropriate that is how this highly recommended movie has left its legacy.
Director: Lou Adler
Starring: Diane Lane, Laura Dern, Ray Winstone, Marin Kanter
Watched on Imprint blu-ray (Australia)