Saturday, June 16, 2007

Party Monster - A Review

You may remember the ClubKids. They were the ones who dressed up like clowns and chickens and all sorts of crazy things and eventually wound-up spiraling into decadence, drugs, AIDS-infected sex, and murder. Having some experience with club kids of a similar type, it's not really like there's anywhere else that lifestyle leads.

Party Monster stars one Macaulay Culkin, whom we last saw around the time the ClubKids were making appearances on Geraldo, and one robot-free, and largely chickenless, Seth Green. Both turn in absolutely brilliant performances as the main ClubKids at the helm of the entire movement. And while many of the actual eyewitnesses - the remaining ClubKids, several of whom still work in the club business in one form or another - contest the factuality of the film, most of them admit to its overall veracity, though insist there weren't as many drugs (at least at first).

If you are at all familiar with the story, Michael Alig was a lonely, gay, Midwestern boy who moved to New York in an attempt to find somewhere that would allow him to flaunt his individuality instead of hiding it. Once there, he met one James St. James, a budding writer and club diva, who (according to St. James) showed him how to "work it, girl." After a shaky start, Alig became the toast of the club scene and eventually the town, thanks to his ostentatious soirees, outrageous behavior, and flamboyant personality. He and his crew of drugged-out ClubKids eventually made it to daytime TV and even toured the club circuit, although they had no show to perform.

Alig and most of his immediate inner-circle fell prey to drugs, specifically crack and smack and all such as that, and Alig and a roommate wound-up in a violent encounter with one of their drug-dealers, Andre "Angel" Melendez, which ended in said drug-dealer's death. True to form, Alig told pretty much anyone who would listen the details of that fateful encounter, but the only ones who took him seriously were the police, who decided to conveniently overlook the murder in order to try and set-up a "bigger fish," the owner of the nightclub which Alig had transformed from a hole-in-the-wall to the city's major venue. But when James St. James' book was released, the authorities were forced to arrest Alig and his co-murderer.

While details are sketchy (and vary, according to whom you hear the story from) Alig inarguably butchered the remains and set them asail in the Hudson River - after he and his roommate had spent the dead man's money and partied on/around his corpse.

Ah, clubbin'...
It is also inarguable that Alig and the ClubKids were at the forefront of the whole rave "movement" of the 1990s, in fact, it could be argued that they started that movement with their impromptu (though secretly well-organized) dance parties in major chain restaurants, subway stations, and other public places. Arguably, Michael Alig and James St. James are two of the most important pop-culture figures of the past decade that you have probably never heard of, and this movie captures the scene they created quite well.

Moving performances by the cast - specifically Culkin, Green, and Chloe Sevigny - are interspersed with your typical, gauzy, gel-lensed, bass and breakbeat dance-rave-club scenes, occasionally broken by the victim's self-conscious walk toward his fate, and it completely works to invoke St. James' memories and perceptions of the scene and the events. In particular, the character of Angel Melendez is intentionally left sparse, as no one claims to have known much about him. He was considered an "uncool" D-lister, so there are a lot of scenes of him falling all over himself in attempts to be accepted by the ClubKids and Alig in particular, who continually brushes him off.

It is not a little ironic that these ClubKids - who considered themselves outcasts and sought to create their own world, insulated from larger society - ended up creating a microcosm mirroring real society in which Melendez took on the role as outcast. At its heart, Party Monster is less a morality tale and more of a straightforward revenge story; Melendez took on the dual role of outcast and larger society, as his demands that Alig and crew take responsibility for their actions (a recurring theme, often voiced by the "responsible" characters outside of the ClubKids) were what led to his death: Alig and Reyes struck-out against him as both outcast and authority figure.

Really good movie which has a lot of important things to say, regardless of how much is fact and how much is fiction. But, so long as we're on the subject, I haven't really read or heard anything from Alig himself that contends otherwise, so I'm inclined to believe the movie is fairly genuine, even if it is slightly exaggerated.

Highly recommended.

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