Party Monster

| September 15, 2003

Party Monster is the first feature film offering from docu-dramatist Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey. It is based on James St. James’ Disco Bloodbath, an account of the events surrounding the rise and fall of Michael Alig and his band of club kids in the late 1980s and early 90s. The film is also loosely adapted from Barbato and Bailey’s 1998 documentary by the same name.
The story is about misbegotten youth, experimentation with, and addiction to drugs, wearing outrageous Halloween costumes out-of-season and the eventual and gruesome demise of My So-Called Life’s Wilson Cruz, who ends up floating in the East River in bite-sized pieces.
Having watched the documentary on which this feature film is based, I’ll say this: Barbato and Bailey did one hell of a job casting this puppy. All of the characters in the film are near dead ringers for their real-life counterparts. The only one for whom you could not get a good sense was Alig. His persona is almost unimaginable and certainly unexplainable, and for all his quirks and mystery, I think Macauley Culkin did Alig justice in his portrayal of the Midwestern mama’s boy turned Manhattan club promoter extraordinaire.
What you see on-screen actually happened. Some of it is embellished for dramatic effect, but it happened, nonetheless. The embellishments and dramatic license is interesting to note. Living in New York, home of Michael Alig and his gang (plus the aforementioned viewing of the doco), I have been able to right some of the movie’s wrongs, the most interesting of which was that Alig was eventually apprehended in an apartment with a teenage boy (his boyfriend at the time), not Chloe Sevigny, or anyone of her gender. Alig’s sexual preference is certainly not tap-danced around in the film, but rather it is blunted by the overblown relationship with Sevigny’s character, Gitsie, a club kid hanger-on from Dallas. In reality, Gitsie played an ancillary role in the drama that was Alig’s life.
Michael Alig’s entire existence was predicated on being fabulous, and once in New York City, he found the outlet he’d always sought. This was not always the case in his life, however. As a schoolboy in Indiana, he was always “different,” which as we all know is code for “homosexual.” He sold candy to his fellow classmates at inflated prices to make money, before the school’s principal found out and shut him down. He was known as “the candyman.”
Shortly after Alig moved to New York City, he befriended James St. James, played by Seth Green. According to St. James, “befriended” would probably be an overstatement, but the two did maintain a dysfunctional, if not symbiotic relationship for years. St. James always contended that he never had a good idea that Alig didn’t steal. St. James, incidentally, was the one who turned Alig in to police, in the end.
Culkin is fascinating to observe as Michael Alig. His presence on-screen makes it nearly impossible to take your eyes off of him. Watching him teeter about in 12-inch platform shoes and a jockstrap didn’t hurt either. Green’s performance as James St. James, the “original” club kid, as he notes, is a perfect compliment to Culkin’s, and is only slightly more over-the-top.
Alig’s and St. James’ outfits are only somewhat more understated than their personalities. St. James summed it up best on a Geraldo-like talk show when he said, “If you have a hunchback, why not dress up the hump with a little glitter?”
What drew people to Michael Alig and his parties was his charisma, which as we all know, gets you elected to prominent positions in Washington, DC, so why not use it to build a following among the fringe of the New York City party circuit? Culkin scores in this realm. His witty one-liners, which he zings Green with in almost every scene, are both cruel and captivating all at once. Alig’s parties were always pushing the envelope to the point where he started throwing them just about anywhere. Some of his more famous party locations were on a New York City subway, in the back of an 18-wheel tractor trailer and in a McDonalds restaurant in Times Square. Of course the highlight of these parties, as opposed to the ones held at the nightclub Limelight, was the arrival of the police.
There are numerous notable performances in the film. Well, there are a few notable for the actual performance rather than simply for his or her celebrity status, but there are an abundance of high-caliber celebs for such a small, independent film. Most notable is Marilyn Manson’s performance as Christina, a cracked-out tranny with bad teeth who Alig turns into a nightclub “superstar,” and who has virtually no lines, but is fabulous nonetheless. The remaining performances range from the bizarre–Mommie Dearest’s Diana Scarwid as Elke Alig, Michael’s mother–to Dylan McDermott’s mundane performance as Peter Gatien, owner of Limelight nightclub and father-figure to Alig.
Party Monster was not designed to be high cinema. It is an overly indulgent story about overly indulgent people. In the end Michael Alig paid the ultimate price for his excess–he is no longer fabulous, unless you consider anal rape in prison fabulous. If so, New York City is definitely the place for you.

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