It was a big deal for us when the “Skunk Movie” was being filmed here. Unlike now, movies were hardly ever filmed in Vancouver in the early ‘80s. We heard about it on CFUN, announced by one of our favourite radio DJs, Ellie O’Day, who said this movie would be shot at the newly-opened Coquitlam Centre Mall, and that there would be a band in the movie with several unnamed members from the biggest and coolest groups at that time. And they needed young extras. By keeping the celebrity identities quiet, the casting crew ensured that the mind of every kid in the Lower Mainland would run wild envisioning their ideal musical lineup, guaranteeing a big turnout for extras. It worked.
Two of my sisters, my best friend Colleen, and I decided we wanted to be a part of the excitement. Colleen and I were the oldest at 18, while my younger sisters Annette and Michelle, were 16 and 12 respectively.
We had a rough idea of how they wanted us to dress for the movie. Since this was to be a “punk rock version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show” with the same producer (Lou Adler) we felt we were in good hands. We arrived in our own versions of the punk rock uniform called for, in my case, construction worker steel-toed boots, fishnets, ripped denim shorts, a white men’s shirt and an old fur coat on top of it all. My mom, an artist with a bohemian streak, had wisely steered us towards the second hand stores around town.
Inside the mall, at one end of the sparkling-new food court, rumbled an imposing set of escalators. These gave the location a metallic gleam-of-the-future, like the movie Metropolis. This was the main staging area for the mall-filmed portion of the movie; appropriate, since our costumes and make-up were meant to look futuristic.
We extras were herded into the food court seats for our first briefing by Adler. When the bearded dark-haired Los Angeles director spoke, he was pretty showbiz to us young Vancouverites. He told us the movie’s working title, All Washed Up, was about the adventures of the lead singer in a punk rock group (a young Diane Lane, in her first lead role) and her rabid followers who emulate her. The adoring teenage fans (us) all dress with the same colour theme for hair, clothes, and makeup: black, white, and red. The name of her band was the Stains and we were to be the Skunks.
The hair and makeup crew asked for volunteers to dye and cut their hair into a skunk-punk style. I liked the idea, and asked mom if she thought I should go for it. To me it seemed somehow appealing, but a bit scary.
She didn’t really discourage me, she just said how nice my long golden auburn hair looked the way it was. In hindsight, it might have been nice to be one of the main skunks. We would have been in more scenes and close-ups and maybe even had a line or two, but we had a lot of fun just being the lesser skunks that we were.
I think we earned two dollars an hour, but we were happy. That was twice as much as babysitting at the time, for doing basically nothing and getting to hang out with my sisters and friend. Plus, we got White Spot hamburgers for lunch and the attention of the makeup crew to apply our extreme red and black eye makeup and dark red lips each morning. So exciting!
The Coquitlam Centre shoot lasted about a week before we were to move on to filming the band performance scenes at the second location in the PNE Gardens. However, mid-way thru the first location filming at the mall, we were suddenly in an exploitation film! Not to exaggerate. It wasn’t like we were being asked to behave like Tura Satana as Varla, the biker girl in Faster Pussy Cat, Kill, Kill, Kill! but it was definitely taking advantage of our youth and naivety.
It was part-way thru the rehearsals for the mall scenes. We were riding the escalators up and down in a big Skunk crowd scene. The direction we were given was to look surly and beautiful, ride to the top of the up escalator, and then turn the corner and ride the other one down again. So we oscillated by the cameras in a big u-shape, trying to look louche, bored, and vaguely threatening all at the same time.
Then the wardrobe people suddenly rolled out racks and racks of these tops that they told us to put on. There were enough red shirts on hangers for everyone, and they were being handed out quickly. Someone had definitely thought this out beforehand. The blouses were red and filmy, made from a single layer of chiffon. We were instructed to replace whatever tops we’d brought from home with the red blouses and we could see, as they were being distributed to each of us, that they were very see-through. We were encouraged not to wear anything underneath the tops, and to feel free to pose on the escalator with our coats open or thrown over our shoulder. All this was put to us as if it was fun and definitely no big deal.
We were surprised. There had been no mention by the movie people of supplying us with any part of the costume before this. Thinking back, they must have timed the request to allow us to settle in and be comfortable with the scene (and for our parents to disperse) before they sprung this extra little thing on us.
By this point, we still hadn’t seen or heard details of the alleged supergroup, and we were getting pretty excited to find out who the musicians were that we would be screaming for at the next location: the PNE Gardens.
We were supposed to be the audience at a gig where our favourite band, the Stains, led by Diane Lane, were playing on a bill with their rivals, the Looters. There were a lot of us, all dressed as Skunk followers of the Stains, and we were instructed to boo and give the finger to this other band while they tried to play a song called “We are Professionals.” They played one snippet over and over: “We are professionals / Join the professionals / Join the professionals today!” while we yelled on from the floor.
So who were the four Looters who we were doing this whole thing for? Each contenders and individually, no doubt, very cool people: Steve Jones and Paul Cook, the guitarist and drummer from the Sex Pistols; Paul Simonon, the bass player for the Clash; and actor Ray Winstone, who played the head Rocker in Quadrophenia.
But like most supergroups, they didn’t live up to the expectations. They didn’t “gel,” the way a real band should. For us, it was anti-climactic after the big build up from who we thought they might be to who they actually turned out to be. We Vancouverites were not impressed.
It wasn’t a masterpiece, but we were still happy that we got to say, “We were in the Skunk movie!” By the time it was finally released in 1982, the name of the film became Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains!
Did we learn anything? I’m not sure. We were just innocent kids, for the moment confident, incorruptible, young, and beautiful.