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JULY 27, 1998: 

Ladies and Gentlemen ... the Fabulous Stains

D: Lou Adler (1982)
with Diane Lane, Peter Donat, Laura Dern, Christine Lahti, Fee Waybill

Over the Edge

D: Jonathan Kaplan (1979)
with Matt Dillon, Michael Kramer, Pamela Ludwig, Vincent Spano

Standing on a hill overlooking her blander than bland hometown of Charlestown, Pa., Corrinne Burns tells her sister, "One day we're going to build a radio station that plays no commercials, no news, no sports ... just rock & roll and the truth." Over the Edge, and the brilliant but commercially unreleased Ladies and Gentlemen ... the Fabulous Stains contain volumes of both. Not only do they acknowledge in a meaningful way how hard it is to be a teenager, but their heroes actually triumph over the misery of being young. Unlike most teen movies whose idea of success is winning a championship or bedding the prom queen, the victories enjoyed in Over the Edge and Stains run deep. Corrinne in Stains, and Carl, her Over the Edge counterpart, win their battles telling the truth, standing their ground, and above all fighting back against the bullshit that surrounds them.

Set in a planned community called New Granada, Over the Edge is based on the true story of a suburb whose planners ignored the fact that one-quarter of the population was under 16. The teens' only refuge is the "Rec Center," which the town's adults fear is hurting property values, and which is subject to occasional raids by the kid-hating cop Sgt. Doberman, also known as "Deputy Dog." It is no wonder then that amid the sparkling condos and townhomes lurk some very neglected and furious kids, among them a barely pubescent Matt Dillon in his first feature film. Bored and angry, the teens will try anything. Why not drop acid before art class? Why not shoot BBs off the highway overpass at a police car's windshield? The parents and teachers of this movie haven't a clue between them, so war is inevitably declared between the adults and the kids. Waged to the tune of Cheap Trick, the Cars, the Ramones, and Van Halen, it's no mystery who wins.

Music plays an even more significant role in Ladies and Gentlemen ... the Fabulous Stains (the title is a play on Ladies and Gentlemen ... the Rolling Stones), which follows the career of a trio of restless girls: Corrinne "Third Degree" Burns (played by Diane Lane), her sister Tracy "Dee Pleated" (Marin Kanter), and their cousin Jessica "Dizzy Heights" (Laura Dern). Despite having had just three band rehearsals ("long ones!" Jessica points out in their defense), the Stains join a tour, opening for British band the Looters (played by members of the Sex Pistols), who are in turn the opening act for coked-out punk geezer band the Metal Corpses (played convincingly by the Tubes). Armed with a "don't be a sucker" attitude and patented look - see-through red blouse, fishnets over panties, high heels over socks, jagged pink eye make-up and a "skunk" style dye job - the Stains voice their fury at groupiedom. At their first gig, proto-Riot Grrrl Corrinne proclaims, "I'm perfect but no one in this shithole gets me 'cause I don't put out." Watch as the jaws of the girls in the audience drop and their hands go unconsciously to their hair. You can almost see the "what if ... ?" thought bubbles forming over their heads.

As in Over the Edge, channeling anger into brutal honesty makes the seemingly powerless stiff competition for all the liars, suckers, and "Deputy Dogs" of the world. Whether in a band or a gang, teenagers are unstoppable against the cruelly oblivious powers that be just by virtue of their mutual distrust of everyone else. As Billy, lead singer of the Looters, says to Corrinne: "I know I'm a liar, but I'm telling you the truth." - Ada Calhoun

The Wings of the Dove

D: Iain Softley (1997)
with Helena Bonham Carter, Linus Roache, Alison Elliott

Alison Elliott (l) shies away from the smoldering Helena Bonham Carter (r) in The Wings of the Dove

If you enjoy period pieces but are sick and tired of the namby-pamby pretense of more recent fare like Howard's End and The Remains of the Day, you certainly owe it to yourself to check out The Wings of the Dove. While the title is terribly reminiscent of an epic French melodrama filled with gushing music that goes nowhere for three hours, this film is something completely different, and unexpected, I might add. Director Softley has crafted an enigmatic puzzle, a love triangle set in turn-of-the-century London and Venice. Bonham Carter (nominated for an Oscar here) and Roache play two young lovers, Kate and Merton, neither with the means to live in a comfortable upper-middle-class manner. Elliot's Millie, orphaned and wealthy, is targeted by Kate, and a plan is hatched: Millie is dying, and if Merton seduces her, she'll leave her fortune to him. Then Kate and Merton can live happily ever after. Suffice it to say that screenwriter Hossein Amini calls this film a "neo-noir," which should give you some idea about how well things go for the duo. It's not as obvious as a Hollywood thriller - it's a romance and a mystery that makes you take pause to consider the consequences of your underhandedness. Considering that Softley's last movie was Hackers, that's quite a refreshing change of pace. - Christopher Null

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