The film was made in Hollywood where general contempt for women is notorious but was especially so when the male backlash against feminism began in the 1970’s. For women to speak out against sexism and male privilege was (and still can be) career death. Script writer Nancy Dowd did speak out and the feminist Women’s Liberation message embedded in her ‘All Washed Up’ story survives despite the depredations inflicted on it (particularly the ending) by the director’s Hollywood misogyny.
The story: Corinne (Diane Lane), Tracy (Marin Kantor) and Jessica (Laura Dern) are teenagers in the distressed steel town of Charlston, USA. They are not ‘a waste of time’. They yearn for a way out, for a way to better themselves. It is 1980, The Looters, a touring British punk band, turn up in town and the girls go to the gig. They see lead singer Billy (Ray Winston), guitarist Steve (Steve Jones), bassist Dave (Paul Simonon) and drummer Danny (Paul Cook) play and a future opens up. The girls form a band, The Stains, and eventually persuade the Looters to book them as support for the rest of the tour. What happens next, the ignominious break-up of the Looters and the huge success of The Stains, was the feminist fantasy that, in real life, made the film a cult inspiration for the Riot Grrrl movement.
Director: Lou Adler
'Look, Don’t Touch!' by Caroline Coon*
Earning my own living and being independent in the public workspace since I was sixteen years old, I have never known when an assault, whether verbal or sexual, will occur. It always shocks me. I have never felt adequately able to protect myself.
In my youth it was ‘normal’ to be told that if I did not ‘want’ to be sexually assaulted, raped or murdered then the main tactic I should use – aside from ‘never being alone with a man’ – was not to dress provocatively.
But, in the late 1960’s, to my dismay I discovered, like all women, we were raped even when we were not wearing mini-skirts! We realised that even the most Cover-Up garments were no protection against sexual assault. Whatever a woman was wearing a man could claim his uncontrollable violent arousal was HER fault. If women demanded that a man stop, in a court of law our “NO!” would be discounted. Not even the defence of being ‘respectably’ married protected women. Until 1994 it was legal for a man to rape his wife. Men had (and still use) entitled impunity to invade women’s bodies.
By the time I was aged 30, I had concluded that censoring what I wore, what women wear to control male sexual violence and engender respect for women was an unworkable, failed tactic. So, I made new feminist rules for myself. I trained my mind to realise that covered or naked, my body was not an incitement. Naked or clothed, my body was not an invitation. Flesh is not immoral. Naked is not permission. I would wear whatever I wanted, or nothing at all. My purpose now was to educate men: men would have to learn, to see, appreciate and understand female flesh and female sexuality without any patriarchal entitlement to assault and rape. Without my consent no man – no person – had the right to touch my body.
This was my experience and understanding when, in 1978, Nancy Dowd asked me to work with her on her film, originally called ‘All Washed Up’. The clothes and the ‘Flame’ make-up I designed for Corinne and The Stains are a conscious and informed expression of my feminist awareness. The message of my designs is ‘Look, Don’t Touch!’ Unless they have her CONSENT, naked or not, no one has the right to touch or invade a woman’s body. NO MEANS NO!
The clothes The Stains wear are both a cover AND a nakedness, both HARD and SOFT. I wanted the ethics in my designs – reflected in Dowd’s story – to convey the tension in how human beings treat each other, and women’s struggle to be counted as innovative and creative artists. The clothes The Stains wear signify female bodily integrity while not denying the beauty of women’s human sensuality and sex. The clothes are an expression of what Corrine wants: to be treated as an equal human being, with consideration and love.
*From the 'Love Letters To Corinne' fanzine, edited by Laura Maw for only the 2nd big screen showing of the film in London, at Genesis Cinema for the feminist genesisters event with cocktails, cupcakes, DJ's and live music on Novmber 5th 2016.