What a fun movie this is! It captures the spirit of something that had never been successfully realized. The punk music ethos is one that several filmmakers have been trying to replicate since the Sex Pistols first dropped their album into the public sphere. Many filmmakers have failed, either because they refused to acknowledge its terms, and when they did, blamed it on the massive amounts of drugs the musicians were ingesting rather than their upbringing. Sid and Nancy was notoriously bad at trying to capture that ethos. It was far more focused on Sid’s self destruction than trying to explain his rise. Whether or not it succeeded at that goal is a little besides the point. It absolutely did not capture the punk ethos.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains comes closer than any other film. The main character, Corinne, is an absolutely terrible musician. This is important, punk was never about musicianship. Even Vicious could not play his bass and Johnny Rotten could barely sing. It was far more about the attitude. The Stains had that in spades. Corrine is a vicious character, uncompromising, existing simply to criticize society. It’s a shame that she quickly loses that cutting edge as fast as many other artists do.
The film is about the Stains rise to fame in the early 80s. Corrine’s mother had just passed away, leaving her and her sister orphans. They decide to get out of their hometown through any means necessary, and hit the road with The Looters, fronted by Billy (Ray Winestone, who would later be Beowulf). He falls in love with Corrine and attempts to help improve her talent, only to have her steal some of his songs. Their fame eventually crumbles after the material goods make their fans realize they have become exactly what they were rebelling against.
I am not sure why the film did not gain much more exposure. Likely this was due to the fact that punk was arleady growing stale, for much of the same reason depicted in the film. Rebels can only be rebellious so long before they sell out. How many Che t-shirts have you seen in your life? Sid and Nancy didn’t deal with this issue head on. The Fabulous Stains does. It even becomes an ultimate critique of punk in that regard. Musical talent is not enough to save them. What is? Nothing.
Diane Lane plays Corinne like a person who realizes this but just doesn’t want to admit it. Fame comes as an absolute surprise to her, but she still feels as though she has earned it. Even after her downfall, she is still trying to preach the mantra of punk…only to be ignored by the media that once was her biggest supporter. Corinne is a wonderful character that captures the theme so well. She becomes almost an embodiment of it. Is there an archetype in cinema for media whores? Hmm…maybe someone should come up with a name for that. Alright, how’s this-The CNN Floozy. This is a person in a movie who derives some sort of sexual pleasure from seeing themselves on TV. Corinne is the most extreme example of the CNN Floozy. In today’s world, it is becoming less and less likely that this sort of behavior will be punished. I am glad there is at least one film that does so to someone who really deserved it.
The supporting cast is as good as Corinne. Winestone’s Billy is particularly noteworthy, and is a perfect foil to Corinne. Each character fulfills the desires of the other. The destruction of this equilibrium is what causes the downfall. Up until then, the punk world is like a puzzle neither character wants to solve. See how well the characters play off of each other when you see the movie. In addition, the film contains the bassist to the Clash and two of the members of the Sex Pistols in The Looters. They tried everything to be authentic and it worked like a charm. Those cameos fit in quite well with the rest of the film. We see them, recognize them, and then the film moves on. Most films milk cameos for all they have.
The only weak spot is the end music video. Yes, apparently it was filmed when test audiences protested the bleakness of the original ending. Doesn’t that violate the uncompromising nature of the film? It is well executed, but it was still bothersome. After all this, about the destruction of commercialism and speaking your mind, it ends with a tribute to MTV, the ultimate item that represents the exact opposite of its thesis? Can one scene destroy a film? No, but it can certainly take away from the message. That is really my only wish, that the filmmakers had not surrendered at the last minute.
This film would fit better with a comparison to the punk movement at large. I will be including this more in an expose later (maybe I should compare it with Sid and Nancy and the Sex Pistols movie). I will say this is an excellent film that should be tracked down and viewed by far more than it has been so far.