Dancing, Drugs, and Dopamine

      Imagine a world where there is nothing but dancing, drugs, and dopamine. A world where you can snap your fingers and the most glamorous, exciting night is right in front of you. Parties, elaborate costumes, music; what can go wrong?  In the film “Party Monster” directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, Macaulay Culkin plays Michael Alig, a club promoter and leading member of the Club Kids of New York City, which hosted this glamorous lifestyle in the late 80’s and early 90’s that seemed to rise at the snap of Alig’s fingers. This euphoric and fabulous life was all Michael wanted, so he pursued his dreams and moved to the city to later establish the Club Kids, where he hosted parties and people came dressed in outrageous costumes. Mostly flamboyant and drag-like personas emerged. The Club Kids grew and grew until they were hugely prominent in the underground club scene. Alig learns to rules of fabulousness from James St. James (Seth Green), and he takes flight from there. “Party Monster” does a fine job in depicting Michael Alig and the Club Kids, and I believe it is a spectacle of queer culture that is important to take a look at.

Seth Green and Macaulay Culkin as James St. James and Michael Alig

     The darkness that was behind Michael Alig is something very important to understand “Party Monster” gives us a very accurate presentation of drugs that drove Alig to madness. Being an addict, Alig could never get enough. In almost every scene of the film, we see him high or using. It’s crucial to learn the role of drugs in this underground club life that Alig was basically constructing for himself. Some may argue the lifestyle wouldn’t even be sustained without them. Much of the plot is driven by his drug use, such as his overdose, being warned about them; his relationships are even sustained by them in certain ways. The phrase “dinner is served” is used multiple times throughout the film referring to the drugs he’s prepared for a large group or even an intimate night with James. Almost every action Michael performs in this film is under the influence of hard drugs such as heroine, ketamine, or methamphetamine.  

Macaulay Culkin as Michael Alig

      Murder is also a theme in this film. Part of Alig’s darkness is his real tendency to kill. He brutally murders his lover, Angel (while high) and dismembers his body. He stuffs his legs in a garbage bag and puts the rest of the remains in a box. Eventually he confesses and was sent to prison for manslaughter. This murder resulted from a long argument about drugs. He was so high he barely remembered his actions. 

Culkin and Green post-murder scene

      The culture and goal of this film, in my opinion, is not to just tell a story of Michael Alig and the Club Kids, but to really show darkness and pain that is behind the glitz and glamour of what often is, queer culture and practice (but not all). The culture of queer club scenes, underground drag, and practice cult-like groups, etc. There is a strong parallel between this film and “Pink Flamingos”. There are lines that both can connect to such as brutality and darkness, yet glamour and some sort of “perfect world”. Alig believed his club promoting and Club Kids was his perfect world, just like Divine did with her group. When actually, the reality of what they were engaging in was nothing but destructive. Like we discussed with “Shortbus”, and the actual existence of these kind of places, there is a certain set of “rules” and “norms” that govern these kinds of places always led by this great and fabulous leader. Justin Vivian Bond, Michael Alig, and Divine are all faces of their own “clubs” who really act as the eyes, ears, and especially mouths of these environments. “Party Monster” is a really important addition to queer film, in my opinion, and the true story of Michael Alig is something to take notice of when learning the history and culture of the queer club scene. 

Macaulay Culkin, Wilson Cruz, Seth Green

“Party Monster” movie poster

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