Vancouver’s forgotten post-punk cult movie

Vancouver gets rapped by outsiders for a lot of things, but no one can take away the city’s influence on cinema and modern music over the past generation. I wrote a piece, for example, back in 1991 about the Little Mountain Sound studio where Metallica, Aerosmith and others did their biggest recordings, partly to recognize the city’s part in making the music happen.

Dianne Ladd as Corinne “3rd degree” Burns

Before Expo 86, when Cannell Studios moved into Vancouver and spawned an explosion in the local film production industry, there were only a handful of flicks filmed here. Some became cult classics (Carnal Knowledge, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Out of the Blue). One film completely slipped my notice, however. I discovered it thanks to a Facebook comment from my high school buddy Chris​, who says he was an extra in a shoot done at the Commodore in about 1980 or so (the year we both graduated from Killarney Secondary).

The story of “Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains” is almost unbelievable. It was one of the first performances by 14-year old Dianne Lane, it was one of the first movies in Laura Dern’s resume, the celebrated Christine Lahti starred, the producer and director went on to be huge in Hollywood (Joe Roth ended up as head of Disney). The script was written by an Oscar winner (though she was so frustrated by the production she pulled her name from the credits). The director Lou Adler had made a huge name for himself in music, and had a huge hit with his previous film, Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke.

For music fans there was the casting of Fee Waybill (singer of The Tubes), and also the creation of a punk “super group” featuring guitar, bass and drum players from The Clash and Sex Pistols, who gigged together at the Commodore Ballroom. Here is the film’s scene where they play together at the Commodore.

Because the movie tested poorly with audiences it was never released, and wound up on cable TV about 15 years or so later, gaining a new cult following and a documentary about it (which you can find on YouTube — here’s part one and part two). It’s a pretty short program, and includes interviews with most of the key talent – highly recommended.

The movie has gained a bit of a cult following, though critics have been lukewarm to it. Ladd’s take no shit attitude was supposedly an inspiration to later alt-rock idols Babes in Toyland and Courtenay Love. The movie’s art direction actually looks pretty stunning in places. The band’s hair styles and clothing are straight out of London’s punk period, and it is amazing to see roomfuls of extras wearing the shocking red blouses, stockings and bleached hair-dos.

Here is a great article on Night Flight outlining the history of the movie, featuring clips, and some of the behind the scenes drama that drove this movie into obscurity for so long. The Wikipedia on the movie outlines the plot and other production details.