Ladies And Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains. DVD Rhino Rock 'n' Roll Cinema 1
Running Time 87 minutes. 5.1 Surround Sound. Region 1.
Release date: 16th September 2008
Featuring Ray Winstone (Billy), Steve Jones (Steve), Paul Cook (Danny), and Paul Simonon (Johnny ) as punk band The Looters.
The Fabulous Stains. The ultimate cult movie musical. The word “cult” is thrown around too readily these days, TV shows with audiences of millions are termed “cults.” The same goes for films, rock groups and books, almost anything that is popular. No, a real cult is a form of entertainment that has built up a following all by itself over a sustained period of time, largely by word of mouth. A cult also concerns something ignored by the mass public, who wouldn't “get it” even if it was staring them in the face. That's how I perceive the word. The Fabulous Stains is a cult movie. Filmed (mostly) in 1980 in Vancouver and Johnstown Pennsylvania (where the story is initially set), it disappeared off the radar almost immediately. Those of us who recall interviews with Steve Jones and Paul Cook in 1980 where they talked about “All Washed Up” (as it was originally called) soon gave up all hope of ever seeing the film.
During the late 80's/early 90's it began to crop up on cable TV in the US, and so the cult began. A friend in Pennsylvania itself sent me an off air VHS copy. Apparently it was a popular film amongst people of a certain age and within the punk community. He told me how the entire story centred on the song Join The Professionals, and included another great unreleased Cook and Jones composition, Conned Again.
The story tells the tale of Corrine “3rd Degree” Burns - played by Diane Lane - who, following the death of her mother, forms the group The Stains with her two cousins. Attending a gig by aging 60's band The Metal Corpses, Corrine takes inspiration from the support band The Looters and manages to get The Stains onto the tour, at the bottom of the bill. And so the fun begins.
At last, almost 30 years later, it receives an official DVD release. For a film of this nature, the quality of the print used is vibrant and sharp (and I'm watching it through a multi-region player and PAL TV). Gratifyingly, the music sounds dynamic, which is a real plus for this release.
Firstly, a look at the DVD itself. The menu plays “The Professionals” (as the song was known as back then), albeit The Stains version, but it's a nice way to get in the mood. The “extra” picture gallery includes some excellent stills of Steve, the two Paul's, and Ray as The Looters, both on stage and off. There are two commentaries included, the first by Director Lou Alder, the second by Diane Lane and Laura Dean. Both are worth listening to. Whereas Lou's is more measured, and assumes the viewer is not familiar with the film, Diane and Laura are out to enjoy recalling their time on the film. They have a great affection for The Fabulous Stains and prove to be an enthusiastic commentary double act.
Onto the film itself. Despite the lack of experience of many of the cast, the performances are in the main first rate. Diane Lane, who was 15 at the time of filming, would later go on to big things in films such as The Perfect Storm and Unfaithful. Laura Dean, who amazingly was only 13, played Corrine Burn's cousin and fellow “Stain” Jessica. She would go on to star in the Jurassic Park series. Fee Waybill from The Tubes, played the part of the Metal Corpses singer perfectly, while up and coming actor Ray Winstone cranks his Cockney persona up to the max. Lou, Diane and Laura, all talk about Ray's accent in their commentaries, with some hilarious mimicking by the girls. Clearly the Americans could not understand him; “I like your hair” being the main offender. As for Steve and Paul, Lou points out that Steve had a lot to do with the production of the songs, which were recorded in Vancouver, and proved to be “a great help.” Lou felt The Looters did a great job with limited time to rehearse, although it was hardest for Ray as he wasn't a musician. Lou also talks about the forthcoming release of the soundtrack – which has never been issued previously. The girls reveal that the The Looters played between takes at the big concert finale to keep the crowd happy. Although Steve and Paul don't have major speaking roles they do crop up throughout, throw a few expletives around, and star in some great on stage performances.
I like this film. It is what it is. A well told tale of youth verses adulthood, of image over musicianship, and of fading rock stars being brushed aside by a fickle industry and equally fickle public. As Lou points out, it doesn't relate to the modern music industry, but it is a time capsule from a period when managers and agents were king. And let's be honest, the Stains in their full Skunk dress (what little there is of it) look amazing. Ray Winstone was right when he said “I like your hair.” And the rest. Well done Caroline Coon for supervising the Skunk look.
If you like Steve and Paul's work as The Professionals, you will enjoy this for the music, seeing the boys in action, and as an historical document. If you merely want to check out a real “cult” music film, and have a slight interest in the punk period and the Sex Pistols, give it a try. The film has remained outside the mainstream for so long, perhaps the DVD will change all this? Will it lose its cult status and become too popular? I don't think so. Like I said earlier, the public at large wouldn't “get it.” Make sure you do.
To become a cult in the first place, a film has to have that certain X factor, something unique and special, something outside the norm yet able to draw like-minded people towards it. The Fabulous Stains has achieved this status on merit. Ladies And Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains is a cult classic in the truest sense of the word.
Review by Phil Singleton (15th September '08)