In the late summer of 1991, Bikini Kill were back in their hometown of Olympia, WA, on a brief layover before relocating to Washington, DC. On a particular evening the three band members all slept over at drummer Tobi Vail's parents' house in order to catch Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, a favorite of Tobi and Kathi Wilcox's that had seemingly been eternally relegated to USA Network's midnight b-movie variety show Night Flight. Kathleen Hanna later recounted to Sara Marcus in her riot grrrl bible Girls to the Front that, while lying on the floor watching the movie for the first time, she felt like something big was on the horizon.
This was six years after the film was shoved into Film Forum by Paramount Pictures for the briefest of moments, and a whole ten since the film had been shot. And even then it would take another decade before I Was a Teenage Serial Killer filmmaker Sarah Jacobson led a crusade to drag the film from the depths of studio shame. The film instills a tenacity in its fans to be shared, spread, proclaimed from rooftops. Stains frontwoman and droll teenage burnout Corinne "Third Degree" Burns (Diane Lane) offers no shortage of rallying cries: "I think every citizen should be given an electric guitar on her sixteenth birthday."
Following the death of her mother from lung cancer and itching to escape her Pennsylvania factory town ("the town that wouldn't die"), Third Degree starts a punk band with her sister (Marin Kanter from The Loveless) and a thirteen year old Laura Dern, who announces her presence to the camera in the opening scenes with a lifeless "ta-daah." The Stains join a supremely mismatched tour that includes members of the Clash and the Sex Pistols fronted by startlingly dashing young Ray Winstone, and end up starting a revolution of young women with their confrontational style and skunk-like hairdos.
While much has been made of the fact that director Lou Adler, a record executive and one of the masterminds behind Cheech and Chong, never made another film, his contributions are overshadowed by that of screenwriter Nancy Dowd, fresh off her Oscar win for Coming Home, and rock journalist and "consultant" Caroline Coon, who helped develop the band's still oft-emulated look.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains is streaming on Pluto TV (August 2020)