Crime Week, Day 6: Party Monster

I used to be annoyed that this next one wasn't available on blu-ray, because 2003's Party Monster is a terrific little crime film that never quite got the praise it deserved.  I'd even occasionally search around in other regions to see if a decent import version hadn't flown under my radar.  But then I finally took a minute to consider when this was shot, looked into it and realized, of course, this was shot on standard def video, so like 24 Hour Party People, it wouldn't stand to look much better on BD anyway.  Of course, MVD still put that out, so maybe it will still happen.  But I've learned to stop worrying and love the DVD.

Oh, and P.S.!  That reminds me, I've just updated my 24 Hour Party People coverage to include MVD's blu-ray today, so you can go and see what I'm referring to for yourself.
Party Monster tells the story of - including the vicious murder by - semi-celebrity party promoter Michael Alig and his NYC club kids scene.  This is written, produced and directed by the team of Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato.  It's the first, and to date only, feature film by the duo with a decades long history of documentaries.  Some of their best known work includes The Eyes of Tammy Faye and Inside Deep Throat.  I can't say these guys rank alongside the truly great documentary filmmakers, per se, but they're certainly prolific.  As their first feature, it may be a little rough around the edges... it relies too heavily extreme close-ups and you can feel them struggling to mask budget limitations.  But given their history covering the scene, and perhaps just the generally tacky, salacious themes shared by the real events and the filmmakers' body of work (they're also the Shock Video guys, if you remember HBO's weird experiment with modern mondo trash in the 90s and 00s), they feel like the right guys to tell this story, and in the end, I think they did it just right.
Admittedly, this is a movie you have to put some faith in.  I've spoken to a number of people who were immediately put off by the performances in the opening and never made it, past, say 30 minutes in, and I totally get that.  The film starts with Culkin and Green both breaking the fourth wall to argue who this film is really meant to be about.  They perform with very cartoonishly fey artifices, and the whole thing can feel very cringe, if not downright homophobic.  But if you went in having seen the doc, you'd know the real people spoke that same way; putting on those over-the-top personas went with the costumes and drugs as part of their extreme desperation to escape their reality, which is exactly what Culkin and Green have captured.  And if you stick with it to the end, the actors definitely dig down to the humanity and heart of their characters.  Except for Dylan McDermott.  We've just seen him kick ass in Wonderland, but now he just looks woefully miscast, like he wandered in off the set of Access Hollywood.  But where McDermott awkwardly fails to capture the spirit (let alone the look) of his real-life counterpart, the rest of Party Monster's supporting cast knocks it out of the park, including wonderful turns by Chloë Sevigny, Natasha Lyonne, Wilson Cruz (Star Trek, My So Called Life) and even Marilyn Manson; and you only wish they all could have more screen time.
2004 Fox DVD fullscreen side top; 2004 Fox DVD widescreen side bottom.
Party Monster's a single-sided disc, but that hasn't stopped Fox from including both fullscreen (1.33:1) and widescreen (1.83:1) versions.  It's a bit of your standard compromise, where the fullscreen opens the mattes up, revealing more vertically.  But it still definitely takes large chunks off the sides and spoils the composition.

Now, I questioned earlier if the standard def video would even look any better on blu, but I do wonder if a new version could at least fix this interlacing.  It very well might be baked into the footage, but I'm not sure that it isn't just a part of this particular transfer.  (shrug)  Who knows?  Either way, it's soft and low-fi, even by DVD standards.  The colors are clearly intentionally over-saturated as a design choice, but the range still seems pretty crushed, which again is probably an issue with the original footage rather than the DVD transfer.  I'd certainly be curious to see if an HD restoration could do anything for it, but I suspect this is about as good as it'll ever get.

Party Monster includes a robust Dolby Digital 2.0 track that serves the music and dialogue well, as well as an additional Spanish dub.  Fox also includes optional English subtitle captions.
Extras ain't bad.  We mostly get a bunch of short stuff.  Cast interviews include most of the main players, but are all really short, EPK pieces, ranging from four minutes to thirty seconds.  There's nine minutes of behind-the-scenes footage, a nine minute promo featurette, a four and a half minute interview with Alig, which seems to be an outtake from the 1998 documentary and the trailer.  All of these short things are nice to have, and I'd definitely rather they be included than not, but they also still leave you hungry.  The most filling extra is the audio commentary by Bailey and Barbato that provides a lot of information both on the film and the club scene that inspired it.
One thing you really want to see in the extras of these crime films is coverage of the real incident, and while the Fox DVD does talk about briefly, it definitely falls short.  So thankfully, an indie label called Picture This released the 1998 Party Monster documentary - or "SHOCKUMENTARY" - on DVD in 2003, to compliment the feature film.  This is the original film Bailey and Barbato made for HBO that led to the feature in the first place.  It's only about an hour long, but talks to everybody, even Alig in prison, and also is full of vintage footage showing the famous parties, home videos and news footage to really paint a complete picture.  If you don't have any personal involvement in the club stuff, the first half can move a little slow.  It's a bunch of former kids eager to share their memories of each other like who regularly wore what costumes, etc.  But once the film gets to where things started to slip, it gets fascinating - not to mention just a fun way to compare all of the actors with their real-life counterparts - and becomes the perfect compliment to the feature film.
2003 US Picture This DVD.
This Party Monster is only in fullscreen, at 1.31:1, which is surely its OAR as a made-for-TV movie.  This was also shot on digital and has a similar color palette, though it's naturally packed with more, lower quality, vintage footage as you'd expect from a doc.  Unfortunately, it's interlaced, too.  That tends to go hand-in-hand with TV material, though, and as little hope I hold out for a BD restoration of the feature film, I have far less for this getting one.  So there's nothing to do but embrace whatever flaws we find.

Audio is just a basic, but clean, stereo track.  There are no subtitles.
Extras on this doc are pretty rewarding, too.  Maybe even moreso than Fox's DVD.  First off, we get an audio commentary by James St. James (Seth Green's character).  As you can imagine, it's not ideal.  He spends a lot of the time making catty comments about the outfits people are wearing and other silliness, but he also has some unique insights and overall it's an energetic, interesting listen even if it's a mess that you have to sift through.  There's a brief featurette on Clara the Chicken, one of the kids known for wearing a chicken mascot costume and original footage used to advertise and play in the clubs.  There are trailers for both the doc and the feature and a bunch of bonus trailers.  But most notably is another hour-long 1994 documentary called Nelson Sullivan's World of Wonder, also produced and directed by Barton and Bailey, which consists entirely of Sullivan filming himself, video diary style, and his downtown NY neighbors.  This includes an extended visit to the apartment of Christine, Marilyn Manson's character from the film, and famous LGBTQ icons like Quentin Crisp and RuPaul.  A lot of footage in 1998's Party Monster was shot by Sullivan, too, so it's great that this film found a home here, too.
So yeah, if a blu-ray ever happens, I'll spring for it and see if it helps at all.  But it probably won't, so it's a moot point.  But that's alright.  I've stopped working myself up over what would be little more than a side-grade.  The DVDs are just fine.

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