BAM's "Punk Rock Girls" Burns Down the World Again
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains
'We're the Stains, and we don't put out." This is the slogan of the DIY teenage-girl trio fronted by Corinne Burns (Diane Lane, only 15 when shooting began and ferociously charismatic) in Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (1982), the second and final film directed by rock impresario Lou Adler. A supremely gifted on-the-spot self-mythologizer whose provocative stage outfit consists of a cherry-red see-through blouse, black bikini briefs, and fishnet stockings, Corinne explains to a judgmental TV reporter why the catchphrase isn't a contradiction: "It means don't get screwed. Don't be a jerk. Don't get had."
The lead singer's credo would make an apt tagline for "Punk Rock Girls," BAMcinématek's 11-film series (plus a program of shorts) organized in anticipation of the May 30 release of Lukas Moodysson's We Are the Best!, which is based on his wife's graphic novel about her own teenage years as a punk enthusiast. Featuring another female-adolescent troika, Moodysson's film, a sneak preview of which opens the retrospective, is set in 1982 — the year of not only Fabulous Stains' release but several others in the showcase — and salutes the era when Corinne and her fed-up sistren took to drum-bashing, guitar-thrashing, and other insurrectionary acts to voice their rage.
"Punk rock" is an expansive term here — the program includes the electroclash sounds of Slava Tsukerman's Liquid Sky (1982) and Madonna's dance-pop in Susan Seidelman's Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) — as is "girls," with some of the protagonists (like Madge herself) several years past legal voting age. (Only once is the definition of "movie" strained, with the inclusion of 2001's Josie and the Pussycats.) The most satisfying titles focus solely on adolescent heroines and not only illuminate the emotional extremes of this tumultuous developmental stage but also demonstrate how the best response to powerlessness might be self-dramatization.
There may be no character more abject or more unforgettable in the series than Cebe, played by the fascinatingly feral Linda Manz, in Dennis Hopper's unsparing family drama Out of the Blue (1980). Two years after her debut in Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven, Manz (born in 1961) is dropped into hell in this brutal story: Cebe's dad (Hopper) is in jail for drunkenly plowing his semi into a school bus full of kids (which a younger Cebe, in the truck's cab with her handsy — and much, much worse — father, witnesses firsthand), and her mom (Sharon Farrell) is a smack addict, nonchalantly tying off in the TV room. Like the Stains' Corinne, Cebe also has a rallying cry: "Disco sucks. Kill all hippies. Subvert normality" — lines made even more indelible by Manz's distinct New Yorkese ("Punk is here forevah").
Worshipping Elvis and Sid Vicious, the rudderless high schooler drifts through her grim Pacific Northwest environs, a handheld cassette player and a teddy bear her only true companions; her nighttime escapades include barely escaping a pervy taxi driver, and impromptu percussion-playing at a club where other unconventional sexual practices are part of the mix. With her coiled, baby-butch swagger, Manz, whose androgynous features uncannily recall those of Jackie Earle Haley, her contemporary, perfectly embodies fragile bravado, her character's bluster negated by her habit of sucking her thumb. "She wants to grow up so fast," Cebe's junkie ma sobs, and you could argue that the teenager's most violent act is also her most perversely mature one.
Not as friendless as Cebe but just as hard is Nicky Marotta (Robin Johnson, a Brooklyn native who shares Manz's thick city-kid dialect), one half of the duo at the center of Allan Moyle's Times Square (1980). This snaggletoothed outer-borough throwaway becomes pals with another motherless child, the T. S. Eliot–quoting Dalton student Pamela (Trini Alvarado), when they're both assigned to the same hospital room for treatment of "neurological disorders." Breaking out of their ward, the class-discordant friends set up house in an abandoned warehouse on the Hudson and take a series of age-inappropriate jobs along the Deuce. They destroy televisions, form a band — the Sleaze Sisters, outfitted in garbage bags — and incite otherwise good girls to join their uprising. More than just a tribute to teenage fury at arbitrary adult rules, Moyle's film also serves as a vibrant sociohistorical record of squalid, teeming Koch-era 42nd Street, much in the same way that Desperately Seeking Susan and Seidelman's first film, Smithereens (1982), are essential chronicles of the East Village (and other NYC neighborhoods) during those same years.
The other punk epicenter, London, is terrorized by a quintet of distaff insurgents in Derek Jarman's Jubilee (1978). A tart reference to the previous year's silver jubilee, the celebration of the 25th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II's ascension to the throne, Jarman's film honors the scabrous sentiment expressed in "God Save the Queen," the Sex Pistols song that also consumed the U.K.'s attention in 1977: "There is no future/In England's dreaming." In fact, two Sex Pistols, Steve Jones and Paul Cook (plus the Clash's Paul Simonon), have parts in Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains. The presence of these three punk demigods may give the film, whose script was reportedly inspired by writer Nancy Dowd's first Ramones concert, more authenticity. But nothing rings truer to the movement's defiant spirit than Corinne's gender-specific wish: "I think every citizen should be given an electric guitar on her 16th birthday."
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.