I usually use this space to point out Netflix’s wealth of depressing documentaries, but I have to let the world know that not-sad not-documentary Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains is on Netflix (disc only, but streaming on Amazon Prime). It changed my life once upon a time, and for the first time a million years it’s not impossible to find, so there’s no excuse not to let it change your life, as well.
...The Fabulous Stains was written by Nancy Dowd (Slapshot, Ordinary People, SNL), but she apparently got credited under the pseudonym Rob Morton because of her clashes with the director, famous record producer/manager (The Mamas and the Papas, Carole King), Lou Adler. Why the director of Cheech and Chong’s Up In Smoke! was brought on to helm what is essentially the origin story of Riot Grrrl is beyond me, but the end result, while frustrating to the screenwriter, is still incredible.
The movie’s heroine, Corinne Burns, a young and scary-good Diane Lane, is a teenage girl who gets featured on the local news as emblematic of her dead-end town. With no parents, role models, or dreams, beyond becoming rockstar “Third Degree Burns” with her band, The Stains, Corinne’s brief appearance on television is the only encouragement she needs to shoot for the moon. She talks her band onto a tour with The Looters (played by Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols, Paul Simonon of The Clash, and legendary British manly-man actor Ray Winstone as their singer), and what follows is her meteoric rise to (and fall from) fame.
It is pretty standard Behind The Music fare. What makes the movie so amazing, however, isn’t the plot, but Corinne herself, a character unlike any other, before or since. When the Stains’ first show starts going downhill and a guy throws a drink at her, Corinne, with her black and white striped hair and see-through top, aims her rage at his girlfriend, yelling at her, “They have such big plans for this world, and they don't include us! So what does that make you? Just another girl lining up to die.”
She closes that show by telling the audience, “I'm perfect, but nobody in this shithole gets me, ‘cause I don't put out!”
The movie, which came out in 1982, was barely released in theaters, but got an audience through cable (especially on USA’s Night Flight, which also showed the punk documentary, Another State of Mind, and videos by the Church of the Subgenius). From there it got passed around on VHS and became the movie version of the first Velvet Underground record; not many people saw it, but most of those who did started bands. The Spice Girls would market “Girl Power” years later, but I feel like Corinne invented it with the following dialogue between herself and her spurned ex-boyfriend, Billy:
“You are so jealous of me. I'm everything you ever wanted to be,” she says.
“A cunt?” he asks.
You can see ...The Fabulous Stains influence all over the musical landscape, from the sounds of the Riot Grrrl movement and the trajectory of the Go-Gos to Karen O’s original eye makeup and Kate Nash’s recent do. The band YACHT put out a 7” called "Don’t Put Out," which contains dancey covers of The Stains’ songs. The late indie filmmaker Sarah Jacobson made a short documentary for IFC about the film and its influence, but really, now that you don’t need to struggle to find a copy or sit up to watch it on USA, just watch it already. It’s definitely best suited for rock nerds, but it’s also such an important, hidden piece of pop culture history, that if you have the slightest appreciation for modern rock’n’roll music, you will appreciate this film.