Three months before his arrest in 1996, as the body of Angel Melendez drifted in the Hudson River, Michael Alig, the polka-dot-faced, turkey-feather-wearing king of the New York nightclub scene, was televised stating that he had killed Melendez. "He was a copycat," he stated, "he was one of those copycats we hated, so we killed him . . . I killed Angel."
Staring into the camera, aloof and lacquered with glittered eye-shadow, he added, "This is the kind of thing that gets me in trouble."
Alig, a club promoter who borrowed, horribly, from Herschell Gordon Lewis's camp masterpiece, Blood Feast, a gore-nightmare of murder and sawed limbs, appears to be enjoying his confession. It is a posture that plays well in the world of John Waters (where Divine would rather die in an electric chair than endure the sight of a hippie burning incense); a posture that has no place in the world outside of camp and all of its macabre, nihilistic trappings.
Now, seven years after New York's then-infamous Alig -- who, with the help of his associate Robert Riggs -- murdered and dismembered Melendez, a 26-year-old Columbian drug dealer, writers/directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato have released Party Monster, a feature film about the New York Club Kids, and the "good evil fun" they had back in the days of the Limelight, under Peter Gatien's careless, indulgent ownership.
Bailey and Barbato are best known for their documentary T he Eyes of Tammy Faye, a film which infamously praised the scorpion-lashed Praise The Lord witch's gay-positivity, while ignoring her gross misconduct and her frequent crying jags about aborted babies: "It's a sin, Jim," she routinely screeched. "A sin!"
The murder of Angel Melendez, or, more precisely, the life and times of Michael Alig, are very well documented: Bailey and Barbato released an Alig documentary in 1999, to critical acclaim, and Alig has been featured in magazines, on American Justice, and in a recent Barbara Walters interview, in which the empathic interlocutor seemed more confused by the idea of Macaulay Culkin, the star of Party Monster, playing a gay man than a convicted murderer.
There are countless hits on the Net for Alig, including his falsely pious jail diaries, which focus almost exclusively on his dietary practices or his sense of how "yucky" it is among the noise and body odour of his fellow inmates. In one entry, he writes that he is reading, at The Village Voice's Michael Musto's request, Crime and Punishment: A few pages in, he notes: "Naturally, it hit home." He then goes on to say that he had chicken, corn, bread and juice for dinner. While Dostoevsky's protagonist was more concerned with his immortal soul, perhaps the novel is the poorer for not revealing Raskolnikov's post-homicide prandial practices. The putatively remorseful Alig seems most sorry to be missing all the fun on the outside.
While all of the early reviews of the film are, uniformly, vicious, lamenting everything from Culkin's stilted acting to the awkward, sophomoric construction of the plot, the film's production company, Killer Films, is still hacking away, trying to represent the movie as fun, gay camp: Its Web site offers an array of collectibles, including Party Monster trading cards, emblazoned with the faces of the key characters.
Killer Films has brought forward a number of potent gay directors, including Tom Kalin, whose Swoon re-examines the gay thrill-killers Leopold and Loeb, and Todd Haynes, whose work tends to examine violence and otherness with an eye that is both macabre and shrewd -- his best, and banned film, Superstar, examines the life and death of Karen Carpenter, using Barbie and Ken dolls as actors, a whimsical yet adroit way of signifying the tragic absurdity of the subject.
I have long been fascinated with the Alig story, after reading key Club Kid James St. James's Disco Bloodbath, which was released in 1999 and written at Bailey and Barbato's urging. The memoir, which can only be characterized as what would transpire if one of Bret Easton Ellis's characters decided to become an artist, languished in obscurity until the release of the film -- unfairly so, as St. James is a gifted, unnerving writer, whose pointedly amoral work can only be appreciated by readers of Lautréamont or Baudelaire.
Yet, as I rifle through my trading-cards collection, donated to me by an equally excitable follower of noir culture, I feel as though I am playing the worst game of crooked poker imaginable -- there is Brooke, the obese hanger-on; Michael, pouty and Marie Antoinette wigged; James, cunningly attired in fox fur and a post-Dylan leopard-skin pillbox hat.
And there is Angel, staring vacantly, his white disco-nightmare attire accessorized with impossibly huge wings. He was a young man whose disappearance was not only ignored by the New York police, it was used by intrepid detectives as another trading card, one that they offered to Alig in exchange for him squealing on his mentor, Gatien, whose money and drug misconduct interested them far more than "one of those copycats" everyone hates.
As Angel's brother Johnny tirelessly scoured the streets for his vanished brother, posting signs and interviewing anyone who would talk to him, Alig regaled his friends with a lamentable story of self-defence that both common sense and the autopsy (which revealed Melendez had been murdered, with a hammer, asphyxiation and an injection of Drano) utterly refuted.
Melendez, most likely, demanded to be repaid the money Alig routinely stole from him, and was killed for being annoying, like a "mosquito" or "roach" as his brother has tearfully observed.
In the original documentary, there is footage of Melendez clinging to Alig, affectionately stroking his head, and watching him with dreadful wonderment, as though New York's favourite enfant terrible could somehow legitimize, or embrace him.
There are no references to Melendez on the Net beyond Alig; and the film plays his death as a minor subplot to the trials of the junkie club impresario who, according to Bailey and Barbato, lives in all of us: "Who," they ask, "has not at some point in their lives wished they could stay young forever or wished they did not have to get out of bed in the morning?"
Children have such winsome dreams, and, as time passes, the 26-year-old Melendez seems younger, and younger still: a mere child who lacked what the terminally creepy Michael Musto refers to as "glamour beyond belief."
A few great writers, including Jean Rhys and Dionne Brand, have tried to tell, by way of revision, the stories of those who are lost in the glitter and heat of tendentious, romantic narrative.
On his television show Big Life, Daniel Richler once declared he refused to speak the names of murderers because he did not want to obviate the victims; he did not want to further the cheap barbarism of killers.
If there is anything left to wrest from this merely sordid story, it is the story of Angel Melendez, who, like all of the ordinary victims of atrocious crimes, stands in the shadow of his killer's celebrity.