The journey of two orphaned sisters and their cousin forming a band; The Stains, that go on tour with a dated rock band named The Metal Corpses and their fading but still semi-prominent UK Punk support band; The Looters.
Academy award winning screen writer Nancy Dowd penned the script for this movie after being inspired by seeing The Ramones live. Unfortunately due to disagreements with director Lou Adler and sexual assault from a camera man on set, Dowd left production and used a pseudonym for her writing credits.
The film sees the girls undermined and underestimated by their male tour bands and then their rise to mega stardom, their downfall and eventual quasi-redemption.
The film ended up getting a theatrical release and becoming a cult classic by people taping it whenever it played on late night television and passing around to their friends. Now that’s punk rock. It’s now finally available on DVD.
The film so brilliantly captures a moment in time where television was the only digital media circulating in society.
It was the digital word of mouth and could have such a big effect. Television in the punk days seems to have a been a key player in the quick rise and gradual decline of the era. The infamous interview with Bill Grundy in 1976 where Rotten let a swear word slip and Grundy pushed him to say it clearly on live television as well as urging Steve Jones to ‘say something outrageous’ with their last 10 seconds on air.
Media played a big part in the unlawful, anarchistic, rebellious attitude that punks were attributed with.
The leading lady Corinne, (third-degree) Burns, played by 16 year-old Diane Lane is fired from her job and has to find a way to both, get money and get out of the ‘city that won’t die’. She sees The Looters perform and is totally inspired. The band is made up of a young Ray Winstone as Frontman Billy, Steve Jones (Sex Pistols) as the guitarist, Paul Cook (Sex Pistols) as the drummer and Paul Simonon (The Clash) as the bassist.
So the film managed to catch the immediate decline of the two seminal male punk bands of the ’70s while at the same time introducing a new wave of punk – Riot GRRL feminist, girl band punk – a movement that was in full shway in the ’90s. This is why the film is revered as a unique look at the death of traditional male centric punk while on the precipice
of a cultural and musical revolution…girl style…now 😉
‘I’m perfect! But nobody in this shithole gets me, because I don’t put out’
This line has really stuck with me and probably many other young girls watching this film. It’s a sentiment that identifies judgement and rejects it. It claims the critic simply ‘doesn’t get you’, so in the end it doesn’t even matter, because you’re not going to ‘put out’ (a polysemic phrase that refers to ‘selling out’, ‘acting to please’, de-authenticate oneself’).
It’s such a lonely but powerful and authentic mindset. Because it’s clear one might have more friends if one acted to please, avoided disruption or offence, played by the rules, but it would be for people who, just…don’t get it.
The Stains are not musical geniuses, they can barely play their instruments in fact and only have one originally song that we hear in the film. It’s how the girls, mainly Third Degree manages to adapt in a male-dominated industry, manipulating the most powerful information source; the media to promote ideology and make something of herself. For a 16 year old girl to navigate her way through a cold-hearted industry struggling hold longevity, due to everyone involved dying of drug overdoses – she handles it all very well.
Hour before their first show on the tour, Third Degree changed up
her whole look dying her hair black with two blond stipes either side of her head with a spiky mullet top and wears bright red liner on her eyes and lips.
The film hired Artist, journalist, political activist and eventual counter-culture queen Caroline Coon as a special consultant on the film to create the look of The Stains as well as advise on how to create the authentic punk vibe needed to sell the film as a true
representation of the times.
Coon’s artist is heavily set in feminist discussions and activism and I think having her influence on the film undoubtedly gave it the edge that would inspire the riot girl bands like, Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. A lot of films about punk are so over saturated by stereotypes and lack the authentic scruffiness of the era. With…The Fabulous Stains having real feminist activists and subculture members advising on body language, aesthetic, demeanor etc…it was able to capture a moment in time.
Toby Vale from the Riot GRRL band; Bikini Kill has said that it is, ‘the most profound and realistic film’ she’d ever seen.
What’s also very interesting is that feminist artist and journalist Coon managed The Clash from 1978-1980. A female manager of one of the biggest punk band in the world, goes on to design an ultra-iconic look for a movie about female punks that would go on to inspire huge feminist punk bands like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile – I just love that.
There is an interesting character in the film which represents the wider societal change that was happening outside of punk. The female news reporter; Alicia Meeker who plays a big hand in The Stains rise to fame. Throughout the film she is challenged by her male co-reporter who dismisses The Stains and what they stand for. Alicia constantly overrides his point and promotes their upcoming live shows. She wasn’t a punk but a middle class sophisticated lady who admired the freedom these young girls displayed. Similarly Aunt Linda played by Christine Lahti is a suburban mother who has no relationship with her daughter or nieces and doesn’t inspire them to do great things. It’s revealed later in the film that this is in fact how she was treated, like she was nothing bound to become nothing. These sub plots are what makes the film special for me. They are realistic and heartwarming. It represents a genders’ struggle to be recognized as worthy and deserving of independence and freedom as men are.
Third degree snaps back at a girl in the audience who has a judgmental look on her face.
‘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’.
This was poignant for me as I’ve had experiences with girlfriends who didn’t aspire to do anything other than what was prescribed for them and didn’t understand me for not wanting that. The film’s creation also falls in between the second and third wave of feminism which saw disputes within the movement regarding sexuality and pornography regulations.
Third Degree’s clothing represents a liberation from conservative costuming of women up until that point. Her blouse is see through, exposing her breasts, she wears hot pants with tights and small heels.
The male news reporter, Stu challenges her on the irony of the look together with their mantra ‘we don’t put out’. Third degree replies ‘that’s not what it means’.
This foreshadowed Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna’s aesthetic and political performance art of drawing the word ‘slut’ on her stomach.
I came across The Fabulous Stains film about ten years ago as a teenager, desperate for content that reflected the subculture I was so intrigued by; Punk, and a socio-political movement that has been an inherent part of who I’ve been from a young age – feminism. I would search on google – films about punks – films about alternative girls – films about subcultures.
I was looking for media that inspired me that was not readily available at the cinema or easily accessible on DVD ( yes my early teens consisted on DVDs still – just before online streaming was the way to do it)
On first watch, I automatically loved the character Corinne ‘third degree’ Burns, portrayed by Diane Lane. She was so ballsy and rejected all men. This is the kind of feminism that I first learned about and it suited me just fine at the time, when I disliked almost all the men around me and truly believed women were just better all around, more superior than men even. Growing up in a half Italian, half English family environment, I grew frustrated at the stereotypical expectations of women and outright dismissal of girls doing traditionally ‘male’ things, like getting tattoos or simple not aspiring to the path paved out for me as a woman.
There is strange taste when I watch the film at how quickly the female fans turn on The Stains and their fearless leader ‘Burns’. Where is the line drawn between being inspired and outright copying an identity.
It is actually The Looter’s former agent Dave Robell who capitalizes on the unique look by selling the blouses, hair dye and hot pants at the merch stand at their live shows which resulted in a ‘uniform’.
Unfortunately the girls were so young they didn’t understand the danger of this.
I do however think the aspect of the skunk uniform is indicative of how un-unique punk became. Everyone ended up looking the same and had the same ideas without actually thinking anything at all. It’s clear now who has survived and who died, drug riddled morons with no motivation to fix the issues they so readily shouted about.
The film was able to show that punk unfortunately became an aesthetic with no substance behind it to carry it through to future generations in the same manner – thank God. The Stains demonstrated that anyone can sing angry songs with an antagonistic get up, but how do you garner a following, a true dedicated fan base who will stick with you?
By having an original idea in the first place?
Or betraying those who betray you?
Tit for tat – that’s the moral of this story, ha!
No, I appreciate the way in which the film documented a moment in time and showcased the struggle for women to even give themselves a chance at a life, let alone others.
The Looters Image source from : https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082639/mediaviewer/rm3859707392/?ft0=name&fv0=nm0000178&ft1=image_type&fv1=still_fr
The Stains pic:(coat) Image sourced from: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082639/mediaviewer/rm3742266880/?ft0=name&fv0=nm0000178&ft1=image_type&fv1=still_frame
The Stains pic: Image sourced from: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082639/mediaviewer/rm2148431360/
Caroline Coon picture sourced from: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/may/02/caroline-coon-artist-the-great-offender-clash
Kathleen Hanna – ‘Slut’ photo : Photograph sourced from: https://www.dazeddigital.com/music/article/24369/1/riot-grrrl-day-declared-in-boston-to-honour-kathleen-hanna
Group Skunk photo: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082639/mediaviewer/rm650854912/