Thursday, September 18, 2008

Recipe: How to make The Fabulous Stains

The Fabulous Stains

2 quarts all purpose Teen Angst
2 tablespoons dried Sex Pistols
1 teaspoon Jonathan Kaplan's Over the Edge
6 Ray Winstone smirks, undiluted
2 teaspoons Penelope Spheeris' Suburbia
1/4 cup The Runaways
2 cups Peter Watkins' Privilege
3 1/2 cups Legend of Billie Jean
1/2 teaspoon Derek Jarman's Jubilee, diced
1 pinch of Black Randy and the Metro Squad


Mix thoroughly while listening to The Germs "Forming", bring to a boil, bake until you're 16 again, and behold: Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains!

The Fabulous Stains
* * *

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains
is finally available on DVD. Shelved in 1982 by Paramount after a poor test screening and later shown a few times on late night television, The Fabulous Stains is one of the best teen angst films of the 80's. It even manages to step outside its borders of alienated youth and rebellion to take jabs at hero-worship, the media, gender roles, commercialization, and consumerism. No, it's not expertly made, and it contains a good bit of poor acting, but judging a film like this on those grounds misses the point: it's a film about attitudes.

The Stains are an all girl punk rock band formed by three young teenagers. They exist more as a symbol of discontent than as a musical outlet, going on tour before they've had much (or any?) practice, reminiscent of The Germs who, while wearing their homemade Germs shirts, went around advertising their band before they even had one, and who played their first gig without having written a single song. When The Stains finally get around to their first performance, the music they play actually sounds like a band that had only a few hours to put something together. The lyrics are also spot on and sound like they were written by alienated teenagers and not a scriptwriter. Punk attitude perfectly captured. I was surprised how right the movie got this.

As for the tacked on ending... Yes, the film would probably be better without it, but it's only bad if you take it literally. When Corinne looks over at the teens who have adopted her look, the final sequence can easily be imagined as her fantasy, her "what might have been" moment. And even taken literally the end can be used to suggest the transient nature of subcultures and how they are all eventually assimilated into the mainstream, diluted into something meaningless that is easily consumable and marketed to the masses.

After watching The Stains, I started to wonder: When was the last rebellion film made in America? They used to crank them out in the 80's... Aren't teen films now either ridiculous comedies or superficial romance dramas? Why? I guess boredom is less intrusive when we're surrounded by gadgets and parents who are never home. Or is it because every subculture that's ever existed has been assimilated into the mainstream and turned into someone else's profit? Or because it's better to just feed us a steady diet of fluff? Does anything still feel dangerous? Does anything feel as though it could have a larger point behind it? Perhaps the current economic crisis will get really bad and people will realize that a life of comfort and security is not a guarantee. Perhaps young people will realize that every preceding generation has been eating their future and that this will really have a consequence one day. But I think we already know all of these things; for some reason we just ignore them. We're pretty, pretty vacant now, and we don't care.

This reminds me of something Paul Schrader said in an interview recently:

GK: Is the need to provide a voice of opposition still the thing that drives you to decide on a particular project?

PS: There’s always been something adversarial and evangelical about my interest in film. It really began that way as a kid. Being interested in film was a measure of revolt. It was a measure of confronting the status quo, the machinery of the community you lived in. It doesn’t seem like much of a revolt in today’s eyes, but it was back then ... And my love of film, even before it was a love of film, was probably a love of troublemaking first. The films I fell in love with were troublemaking films. We showed Viridiana on campus. What is this film but an act of aggression? It’s pretty undisguised.

GK: Do you think films still offer young people that?

PS: No, no. In fact, precious little does, you know, which is unfortunate...

GK: Music, perhaps, which was also something that you were very interested in.

PS: There are so few rules left. I mean, it’s getting harder and harder to break the rules. You really almost have to self-destruct to break the rules. Certainly, all the sort of traditional things like sex or deportment or language are pretty hard to get to offend much of anybody anymore.

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