For decades, punk-rock cult film Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains was almost more of a rumor than an actual movie. Filmed in 1981 and never properly released, it spent the next decade popping up at midnight screenings or on late-night cable. Never officially available on video, it circulated on grotty VHS bootlegs of bootlegs of bootlegs and somehow missed the first wave of DVD reissues, then the second, third, and fourth. But its cult, tiny and fervent, has stayed alive and now finds itself rewarded with a legit digital issue courtesy—who else?—Rhino Video.
What’s all the fuss about? Cheap and maladroit in spots, Stains nonetheless remains one of the few fictional rock films ever that Got It Right. Our heroine, Corinne (a baby Diane Lane) is a steely small-town girl who appears to have been born over it. A package rock tour enlivens the local disco for a night: bloated has-beens the Metal Corpses (fronted by the Tubes’ Fee Waybill) and rising British punk quartet the Looters (Paul Cook and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and Paul Simonon of the Clash backing, of all people, a baby Ray Winstone sporting Joe Strummer’s steez). Corinne talks her way onto the bus with her band—sister Tracy (Marin Kanter) on rudimentary guitar and cousin Jessica (a baby Laura Dern) on even more rudimentary bass—as the new openers. The Stains suck, but are brilliant nonetheless; Lane radiates anti-stardom as she intones “I’m a waste of tiiiiime” over the girls’ fumbling drone, and when the shitkickers don’t get it, she spits, “I’m perfect! But nobody in this shithole gets me, because I don’t put out!” Corinne’s fierce proto-riot grrl rhetoric, rec-room punk, and startling style—skunk-striped hair, see-through blouse, panties-as-outerwear, red eye makeup—soon wins a passionate following. Initially a grudging apprentice to Winstone’s Billy, Corinne becomes his friend, girlfriend, and peer. Then she and the Stains start to pass him and the Looters by.
Stains’ satirical take on A Star Is Born was written pseudonymously by Nancy Dowd (the evil genius who penned Slap Shot) and directed by Lou Adler (a veteran MOR producer/mogul and the man who made Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke a reality), and they rely too much on a certain punk-rock magic realism when it comes to how the plot plays out. But plenty of details ring true, from the Stains’ grim little mining town to Waybill’s on-the-way-down bitching to the Looters’ lumpen slam to Corinne’s sudden enthusiasm for stardom with all the trimmings when it actually becomes a reality. Paramount tried to salvage this gob of a film by tacking on a ludicrous upbeat coda, but Stains’ clear-eyed vision of take-no-shit female rock power and the brutal mechanics of the rock band rise-and-fall lingers long past it.
It seems impossible now that Lane’s galvanic performance didn’t do more for her career or Stains’ profile. Fortunately, not everyone shares her luck. Indie comedy The Foot Fist Way got its own feeble theatrical release earlier this year, but by that time enough directors, casting agents, and actors had passed it around that star Danny McBride had already won himself small roles in big-ticket Hollywood comedies such as Tropic Thunder and Pineapple Express. Now that Foot Fist Way is out on DVD, the real cult can begin to grow.
McBride plays Fred Simmons, a small-town Southern tae kwan do instructor with a state trooper’s flat-top and mustache and boundless cluelessness. He takes himself with such vast seriousness that it makes it kind of enjoyable when his blowsy wife Suzie (Mary Jane Bostic) cheats on him after getting drunk—“Myrtle Beach drunk,” she clarifies. Fred tries to deal with this ding to his confidence in part by recruiting Chuck Norris-like martial arts/film star Chuck “The Truck” Wallace (co-writer Ben Best) to come to his dojo for a demo. Typically, Fred looks at dissipated sleazebag Chuck and sees a true defender of tae kwan do, but by the time Chuck, Suzie, and Fred all come together in a culminating triangle/free-for-all, you may be surprised to find yourself gratified to see a happy ending coming.
Director/co-writer Jody Hill isn’t reinventing the wheel here. The semi-documentary feel and Fred’s appalling lack of self-awareness echo The Office and the cadre of outrageous characters and weird kids bring to mind Napoleon Dynamite. But McBride’s Fred is an indelible screen original, as fascinating as he is ridiculous, and thanks to the actor’s committed performance, never less than real. A star, if only in a cult-y way, is born.