Dir: Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato. US. 2003. 98mins.
Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, the documentary film-makers behind The Eyes Of Tammy Faye and prosperous production outfit World Of Wonder, made a film in 1998 called Party Monster, about the notorious club promoter Michael Alig who created the Club Kid scene in Manhattan before landing in jail for the murder and dismemberment of a drug-dealing associate. Bailey and Barbato painted a chilling portrait of a drug-fuelled world of fabulousness teetering on the edge of horrifying hubris, made all the more disturbing for its interviews with a jailed Alig, whose lucid intelligence and boy-next-door manner belied his grotesque crime.
Party Monster, the 2003 dramatisation of the Alig story which marks the dramatic feature film debut of Bailey and Barbato, is a curiously dreary exercise in film-making which pales in comparison to the documentary. The sprawling, unfocused film which played in both the recent Sundance and Berlin film festivals, fails to recreate the excitement of the era while also unable to build momentum or finally menace in its botched recreation of the murder itself.
Made with all the hallmarks of an ultra-cool New York movie - produced by Killer Films, a cast including Chloe Sevigny and Marilyn Manson - Party Monster actually feels like a product of another time in independent film. It plays like a cheap version of 54, and will suffer that film's ignominious fate. The titular casting of former child superstar Macauley Culkin, the hip cast and the true story will provide hooks for marketers but the public will stay away.
Bailey and Barbato never quite conclude whose perspective the film is being told from. This film is based on the book Disco Bloodbath by Alig's then friend James St James, but St James (Green) appears intermittently in the saga - a shame since Green gives the film's best performance. Indeed, at the beginning of the film, the two characters argue to camera about whose story the film is - a documentary-style conceit which is repeated throughout the film and stops the drama. It is as if the film-makers cannot leave the documentary form behind, a big error in this case since the dark story consequently lacks the dramatic impetus of, say, Boogie Nights or The King Of New York.
The film follows the arrival of Alig in New York in the early 1990s, his meeting with St James and his creation of his club nights at the Limelight nightclub owned by Peter Gatien (McDermott). The Club Kids - kids who were teased and bullied at school but who are allowed to reinvent themselves with new identities in Alig-land - soon become a nationwide phenomenon and Alig's star rose quickly. But so did his drug use. Soon his behaviour becomes more outrageous and obnoxious and, when his friend and dealer Angel (Cruz) goes missing, it is only a matter of time before Alig's crime becomes public knowledge.
Key to the problems in this film is the dearth of footage in the clubs themselves. The film-makers never expose us to the vibrant scene in which Alig was such a master, and therefore the cult of Alig remains somewhat a mystery. And, in the lead role, Macauley Culkin does not wash. Giving a laboured performance which fails to capture the charisma and authority which this brilliant egomaniac clearly possessed, Culkin is like a dead weight of soullessness at the centre of the film.
Prod cos: Killer Films, John Wells Productions, World Of Wonder, ContentFilm
Int'l sales: Fortissimo Film Sales
Exec prods: Wouter Barendrecht, Michael J Werner, Edward R Pressman, John Schmidt, Sofia Sondervan, John Wells
Prods: Jon Marcus, Bradford Simpson, Christine Vachon, Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato
Scr: Bailey, Barbato, from the book Disco Bloodbath by James St James
Cinematography: Teodoro Maniaci
Prod des: Andrea Stanley
Ed: Jeremy Simmons
Music: Jimmy Harry
Main cast: Macauley Culkin, Seth Green, Chloe Sevigny, Natasha Lyonne, Wilmer Valderamma, Wilson Cruz, Diana Scarwid, Dylan McDermott, Marilyn Manson