Party Monster Bailey/Barbato 2003

"From 'Richie Rich' to Kenny Kenny"
"Party Monster" is one of those rare films that I chart like a melanoma -- from conception to pre-production to shoot to editing to festival play to distribution, I am constantly there, checking and re-checking the assymetry, border, color, and diameter of my little skin aborration (the ABCD's of Melanoma, don'tcha know) until it has finally bloomed into a full-blown cancer and I can remove it from the skin of my geekness with a simple visit to the Loew's Cineplexologist.

Now, one might ask why I followed this film so closely. One might ask why anyone who does not play D&D or still live in his mother's basement (as I do not) would follow ANY film so closely. In a nutshell, I believe that I was somehow intended to be a part of the sick and sordid little morality play depicted in "Party Monster". The connections between us are too numerous and frequent to be coincidence: I used to frequent the Limelight in the early 90's when I was a college student up from D.C.; I had Thanksgiving dinner in 1997 at the home of the wonderful Twins, Robert and Tim, who were an integral part of the club kid universe; I was one of the few people who actually saw "Shampoo Horns", a fiction film set during the peak of the club kid frenzy and starring most of the major players as themselves, and whose plotline so eerily resembled the actual events of the Angel Melendez murder that the film was used as evidence in the trial; etc. etc. Now, I'm not your average starfucker, even when it comes to Celebutantes and other local nightlife illuminati. But for some reason this entire phenomenon FASCINATES me to this day, and I will go out of my way to find out more about it. The fact that I am the least fabulous person you could imagine and that the kids would never have even noticed me had I been around during their heyday does not dissuade me -- maybe I associate with Angel in that way and that's why I'm so obsessed with the tale. But, in the end, I'm sitting here rhapsodizing about how I had turkey with a former club kid and I'm not floating in the Hudson in a box, so I guess I shouldn't be too frosted over it. Which brings us to the film ...

Party Monster stars Macaulay Kulkin and Seth Green as Michael Alig and James St. James, respectively (and respectfully), generally regarded as the creators of the Club Kid empire of the late 80's and early 90's. The film (the second "Party Monster", following the documentary of the same name made by the directors in 1998) charts the meteoric rise and fall of Alig, the crown prince and enfant terrible of this empire, who arrived in New York with hardly a penny to his name, built the biggest nightclub phenomenon since Warhol, and then lost it all after participating in the murder of an immigrant drug dealer named Angel. The film, shot in digital video and boasting performances by Dylan McDermott, Chloe Sevigny, Natasha Leonne, Diana Scarwid ("Barbara, PLEASE!"), Marilyn Manson (who damn near walks away with the movie), Wilson Cruz, Wilmer Valderrama, Mia Kirshner, John Stamos, and Danny Franzese, is a dreamy, subjective pastiche of the bizarre, anarchic world that the club kids created and occupied. This is a world where an incomprehensible drag creature who puts out peoples' eyes with microphones and holds clubbers hostage with a machete can be a "Superstar". A world where 300 cracked-out freaks show up at an unexpecting donut shop for an "outlaw party". A world where a boy genius can sway a club kingpin into getting whatever he wants and end up on Geraldo flaunting it with his own mother, whom he introduced to Ecstasy as a "headache pill".

It's a world not many of us has seen, and unfortunately a world that no longer exists. Much like "Velvet Goldmine", where, by the end, the glam phenomenon has sputtered into a dull, banal, polite corporate rock scene, "Party Monster" celebrates this colorful time as much as it condemns it. Bailey and Barbatos, having lived through the ordeal themselves as art students in New York, employ a crazed, colorful palette and camera to highlight the excess and kinetic energy of the time. Narrative tricks, such as Michael and James' habit of stealing the narration from one another (with the help of Ketamine and heroin administered to the other) and moody dream sequences and POVs help propel the story as well. But all is not flash and glamour -- at the core this is a story about two friends and what lengths they will go to to support, teach, hurt, humiliate, entertain, destroy, and profit from each other. The old adage "With friends like these, who needs enemies"? Never more appropriate - these two piss in each other's drinks, steal each other's boyfriends (or at least try), get each other disowned, ruin each other's wardrobes, and get each other sent to jail. And you thought the Dawson's Creek crew had it bad.

Anyway, to wrap it up: Seth Green is fantastic. Much like St. James, he's got a depth that he keeps hidden under false eyelashes and facepaint until the game has gone too far. Culkin is also impressive in his nailing of Alig's creepy, confusing mannerisms and behavior (including that weird forced laugh), but some might find his performance mannered. The fact is, Alig was mannered. But hitting the nail on the head in terms of accurately portraying Michael might not have been the best choice character-wise. One thing stood out -- all of the characters in the film are foreigners. Whether they're from the Midwest, or Colombia, or wherever, everyone in the story seemed to go to New York to find their success and were blinded by greed, ambition, or the need to be seen. It's telling that the character who breaks the story about the murder is a rat that lives in the wall of Michael's apartment -- he's the only indiginous character in the whole ordeal. Maybe he was the only one who could see through the glitter and gloss and call the kids out for what they were: scared, sad children who just wanted some attention.

Rating (out of 5):