The kids are not all right!
Riot girls have a long and noble history that extends far back beyond Hole and Courtney Love. No doubt the experts in this realm can trace the lineage to some ancient Greek island or Neanderthal cave, but for those who haven’t kept up with riot girl archaeology, the 1950s and‘60s was certainly a rich enough period for the phenomenon. Between Roger Corman and Ed Wood and a slew of forgotten auteurs, there were enough girl gangs, vicious debutantes, quasi-lesbian teen killers, and other such cinematic renegades to terrorize many a suburban parent and enchant misfit adolescent girls throughout the land.
A fascinating oddity of the genre occasionally glimpsed on obscure cable venues is Lou Adler’s Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (1982). Unlike most riot girl movies, this was made for a major studio, Paramount, but the execs were so unhinged by the film’s strange, bitter tone that they refused to release it. This consigned Stains to a footnote in film history and ended Adler’s movie career – never prolific (his only previous credit was Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke), he never directed again.
That said, Stains deserves notice first and foremost as a welcome respite from all those mush-brained John Hughes teen epics of the ‘80s. The fabulous Diane Lane plays Corinne Burns, a sexy, angst-ridden teen who’s ready to take out her anxiety on an unsuspecting world. With a couple of her mates – including a lanky young Laura Dern – she forms a rock group without bothering to learn how to sing or play. The Stains get their first taste of success tagging along with a punk band, The Looters, and a busload of fading rockers – the appropriately named Metal Corpses and a British band composed of ex-Sex Pistols Paul Cook and Steve Jones and Clash bassist Paul Simonon. In the inexplicable way such things happen, Corinne and her pals leapfrog the men and become overnight stars, in spite of sounding much like the early Shaggs.
The Stains’ lack of talent is no stumbling block to success; in this insular world, attitude is all, and Corinne has it to the tits. Like the Monkees or the Archies, she and her group are calculated fabrications, but in this case they’re their own creations. Clever Corinne pioneers an apparently unforgettable look – “skunk” hairdo, lightning eye makeup, little black lace panties – and follows up the image by verbally assaulting her audience and droning songs with too apt titles like “I’m a Waste of Time.” She energizes what looks like an army of teen girls, who become clones of her right down to the hair and panties and duplicitous screaming mantra “We don’t put out!”
This ambitious riot girl’s rise takes place on the back of her boyfriend, hunky Brit Billy (Ray Winstone), whose punk style and playlist she gleefully appropriates. Of course, fame is fickle and poor Corinne is eventually exposed as a fraud, ripped off by her manager, attacked by her audience, rejected by Billy, and booted out of the business. In a fabulously weird ending that looks like it was tacked on to impress Paramount and perhaps save the film, the group is seen in resurrection, performing apparently years later looking bourgeois-sexy on a cynical MTV-like video.
The tone of the film is sometimes hokey and often sour, with director Adler taking nervous potshots at a number of targets. With the Metal Corpses, led by the Tubes’s Fee Waybill, he skewers those wretched old rockers who continue to play long after their spandex has lost its snap. He hits the media in droll scenes of two brainless newscasters arguing the merits of the Stains. Most merciless is the film’s take on the music industry. In Adler’s view, everyone’s a fake, from the self-absorbed rockers to fickle audiences to conniving manager to Corinne herself.
There’s lots of good pop/punk music – not surprising given Adler’s prominence as a music producer. And the acting is pretty good throughout, particularly the energetic Ray Winstone as Corinne’s violent boyfriend and Fee Waybill doing a dead-on impression of an egotistical old fool dressed in spandex and Kiss eye shadow. Diane Lane wraps it up with her expert portrayal of Corinne, a wonderfully pouty, bitchy performance that puts her in the upper tier of the riot girl canon.