Thursday, May 8, 2014

Revisiting 'Party Monster': Newfound Freedom — and Fame — for Michael Alig

Yahoo! Movies 18 hours ago

Eighteen years ago, the bludgeoning death of a drug dealer named Andre "Angel" Melendez shocked New York. His killer was Michael Alig, an Indiana transplant who had become one of the kings of the club scene.

The slaying dominated the tabloids, which replayed the horrific details: Alig knocked Melendez unconscious with a hammer in a fight over an unpaid debt. Then Alig and a friend, Robert "Freeze" Riggs, dismembered Melendez's body and threw the remains in the Hudson River.

The following year, in December of 1997, Alig and Riggs both pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were each sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison. Riggs was released in 2010. Alig got out this week, exiting prison on Monday after 17 years behind bars.

Now, the storytellers who immortalized Alig with both a documentary and a feature film are shooting new footage to chronicle the 48-year-old's attempt to re-establish his life. 

                  [Related: New York's 'Club Kid Killer' Michael Alig Released From Prison] 

Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato of World of Wonder Productions ("RuPaul's Drag Race," "Million Dollar Listing") first recounted Alig's story in the 1998 documentary "Party Monster: The Shockumentary." In 2003, the two men co-directed the fictionalized feature film version,  "Party Monster," which starred Macaulay Culkin as Alig and Seth Green as his mentor-in-clubbing, James St. James, along with a supporting cast of Chloë Sevigny, Natasha Lyonne, Dylan McDermott, Wilmer Valderrrama, Wilson Cruz, Marilyn Manson, Mia Kirshner, and Daniel Franzese.

World of Wonder has dispatched camera crews to follow Alig as he reintegrates into society. St. James, who also now works for World of Wonder, flew from Los Angeles to NYC to greet Alig upon his release and has been capturing shared moments on Twitterand Instagram. (Alig himself has been tweeting for quite some time now, by speaking with friends who've visit him in prison).

Although World of Wonder isn't sure yet what will become of the new footage, the producers tell Yahoo that it will eventually get released in some form.

"It's a story that has interested us, and we think it continues to interest other people too," says Bailey. "Alig's story has reached a kind of fever pitch recently with his release. There's something very archetypal about it. So we thought maybe we should send James and see what that would be like.

"We've decided to capture [this experience]," he adds. "We don't have any solid plans for the material yet. Whether we recut the original documentary, or do it as an online original series, I'm not sure. But I think it is indeed interesting to see someone regroup after 17 years. It's really like a time-capsule experience, isn't it?"

Bailey believes that Alig has paid his dues and will be able to segue back into a routine, be it writing, painting, or something more plugged in.

"Prison did not break him in terms of breaking that creative spirit," the filmmaker says. "He's still got that. I think he'll look around and find something. I think if you look back at the Club Kids, it's so interesting in that they were pioneers of the social media saturated environment in which we find ourselves living now. People said they were narcissistic and fame seekers and wanted fame for fame's sake — and I think if you look on social media now you see that en masse. People are interested in their own brand and celebrity more than ever. People are doing all sorts of things to get attention. So I think he's uniquely positioned to be able to anticipate where we're all heading next. I think [the Club Kids] were very prescient."

There's one thing that Bailey knows that Alig should not do, however. "He should not go to clubs, drink, or do drugs," he explains. "He is a Class A addict, and he needs to stay sober."

Several others close to Alig have offered unsolicited advice to Alig. St. James wrote a tongue-in-cheek open letter to his friend on World of Wonder's website. "Haterz gonna hate, of course, but the worst of the worst are YouTube commenters and Redditors. You have been warned," St. James wrote, adding. "Stay away from Beliebers, Little Monsters, and Directioners." 

While Michael Musto, a journalist who helped break the murder story while covering Alig in the '90s for The Village Voice, urged Alig to pursue charity work and cautioned against seeking fame. "Starring in reality shows or throwing parties (if anyone would let you) might sound appealing, but going down those hollow paths won’t lead to anything substantive," Musto wrote in an April letter. 

Both tell Alig that he's become a minor celebrity because of the films focusing on his life.

Daniel Franzese — best known for playing "Damian" in "Mean Girls" —co-starred in "Party Monster" and is conflicted about the subject of the film.

"For me it was surreal working around some of the greatest club kids New York has ever seen… and then also people like Marilyn Manson," he says. "It was hard for me to decide which side of the story I fell on then, just as it is now. Yes it was horrific, but so many of my friends had told me their versions of the story. None of them denied what Michael had done but still there was certain sympathies instilled in me."

But Franzese has high hopes for Alig's future. "I pray that he can rehabilitate… and while he'll be paying for Angel's death for the rest of his life, I hope he can still find some peace and be able to contribute artistically somehow in society," Franzese adds. "James St. James is a dear dear friend of mine and I have always been nervous for him anticipating this day for years. Now here it is. I guess we'll have to wait to see what happens just like everyone else. I'm on the edge of my seat."

 [Related: You Go, Daniel Franzese: Damian Spills Inside Secrets of 'Mean Girls,' 10 Years Later]

Bailey, meanwhile, sees a potential resurgence in "Party Monster's" popularity with Alig's release, and believes the film still holds up after 11 years.

"I think we were making a very old-fashioned morality play. What would you do if your best friend — the person you'd go to the jaws of hell for — does something appalling? 'Party Monster' [the movie] is the ultimate sort of 'Don't do drugs!' movie. We made the documentary first, and then we realized there was more to explore," he adds.

"I think 'Party Monster' is ultimately a very unsatisfying experience, which is why it never won any awards. You leave with tremendous ambivalence. It leaves an uncomfortable feeling. It doesn't validate you or make you feel good about yourself or give you anything wrapped up with a bow. The most successful movies are the ones that do do that."

And perhaps there's a sequel waiting to be made?

"We're storytellers," says Bailey, "and so we'll continue to tell his story."

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