Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains has been referred to as the music industry satire that never was (release was inept back in 1981, resulting in a late-in-life cult following), but I’m more struck with the notion that the film is the music industry satire that shouldn’t have been. Taking more established versions of the subgenre into consideration (Brian De Palma’s bizarre Phantom of the Paradise instantaneously comes to mind), The Fabulous Stains is all attitude and no depth — it should be more vicious in its commentary, should have a catchier soundtrack, and should develop characters that prove themselves to be more than just placeholders for the plot to stand up straight.
But, alas, The Fabulous Stains is never the parodical minx it clearly sets out to be, failing in its every move besides its invention of Corinne Burns, the haughty heroine of the film whose small-time iconhood suits her well. The movie revolves around the thorny rise to fame of its titular band, a girl group of The Runaways caliber minus the talent. With Diane Lane giving a killer performances as Burns, the frontwoman, some of the depiction is visceral and inspired — but the ineffectual establishment of the story by screenwriter Nancy Dowd makes everything tiresomely soggy.
Dowd’s biggest mistake derives from the way we never really feel the moment in which Burns decides that the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle is for her, which sounds trivial but, in reality, is critical to the film's strength. We know that her mother recently died, that she hates school, and that rebellion is paramount in her existence. We do get a glimpse of her going to a concert and having the time of her life. That, most likely, is what Dowd believes to be her come to Jesus moment. But that quick representation is thin and unpersuasive; there’s an overall feeling that Corinne Burns and her friends become rock stars because they can, and that deteriorates the film’s attempts to dig in deep.
None of The Stains know how to play their instruments, anyway. They merely ask the manager of a couple of flagging acts stopping by their town if a joint tour is an option. Agreement is made and the road is hit, though it’s a rocky one that isn’t traveled upon all too successfully. Burns’s pissed off attitude leaves audiences revolted, The Stains's music too awful to make an excuse for acerbic behavior. But as time wears on, Burns’s loud mouthed messages (and wild attire) begin to appeal to disaffected teenage girls around the country. Backlash, though, is a veritable possibility, considering The Stains’s most popular tune bashes 9-5 culture when they’re working young women themselves.
But Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains is never much more than a great idea, characterizing itself as an unconvincing take on overnight stardom too humorless and too undercooked to have much impact. I suppose it all is meant to be a stinging response to the idiotic, exhaustible nature of fleeting era definers (one must look in the direction of the Sex Pistols, of Bow Wow Wow, for example). But Dowd’s writing is not intuitive enough to support such lofty ambitions, and the soundtrack is too stale, too riot grrl lite, for head-bobbing or anything resembling our own love of The Stains.
I can see a better film lurking underneath Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains’s flashy exterior, and its lacking of a punch can only be described as disappointing, especially in the face of Lane’s extraordinary performance. But analyzing the frightening characteristics of fame, specifically in the area of music, is not such an easy thing to do. To do it badly is even worse. So while The Fabulous Stains has admirable aspiration, Underdeveloped is its middle name, and it’s a shame that its potential is able to turn into waste so quickly. C