Documentary Releases: Glory Daze - The Life & Times of Michael Alig (2016) - Reviewed

Andrew reviews the post-Party Monster documentary.

The story of New York City’s notorious Club Kids and in particular it’s torchbearer turned convicted murderer  Michael Alig first came to my attention in 2003 with the Macaulay Culkin starring Party Monster.  Based on the book Disco Bloodbath and drawing from the director’s own documentary, Party Monster: The Shockumentary, the film chronicled the legendary rise and fall of the fashion designing protégé turned leader of the drug and sex addled gay club nightlife.  Flamboyant, troublemaking and something of a cult hero, Alig’s notoriety only grew with each consecutive drug offense related arrest as well as vandalistic antics.  One fateful night on March 17, 1996, Alig murdered his drug dealing club kid pal Angel Melendez with his friend Robert Riggs as an accomplice before dismembering and boxing up the body to dump in the Hudson River only to have it wash ashore, resulting in their mutual incarceration and sentencing in 1997 to twenty years for manslaughter.  Amazingly, Alig was paroled in 2014 and is currently a free man despite abiding by an 8pm curfew with frequent drug and anger management counseling.  Now come around 2016, here is this new documentary Glory Daze: The Life & Times of Michael Alig, a somewhat redundant and overlong footnote to Party Monster: The Shockumentary which spends far too much time reciting details we already knew and far less time charting the former gay icon turned murderer’s shaky reintegration into society.

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For fans of Batman vs. Superman who complained about seeing Bruce Wayne’s origins story for the umpteenth time in the opening credits, Glory Daze crosses the one hour mark repeating everything we already knew about Michael Alig and as such drags it’s feet getting to the Where Are They Now portion of the story.  Watching Glory Daze, despite always finding this eerie topic to be endlessly fascinating, I kept wondering when something I hadn’t seen or heard before on the matter would come about.  For a documentary running well over two hours, probably only forty-five minutes or so actually consist of new material and although all the interviews seem to be newly (and at times badly) recorded , many of them in and of themselves are repetitious.  

The film was directed by character actor Ramon Fernandez from Che and The Visitor and while you have to laud the first-time director for taking on such a massive topic spanning decades, his film simply overstays it’s welcome and feels rough around the edges.  Take for instance the technical merits or lack thereof.  Though it uses a number of preexisting sources, many of the new digitally photographed interviews are disproportionately stretched horizontally, resulting in faces that look fat which change in between shots.  Another problem which stuck out like an eyesore involved an interview which is clearly edited together from several smaller ones, providing newcomers to the documentary format a textbook example of filmmaking bias.  Then there’s the problem with the subject himself who speaks candidly about slicing and dicing his friend before being released and upon reuniting with old longtime friends he can’t help but tell off color jokes about the prospect of doing it again.  For someone who seems to be a changed man striving to reclaim a place in the world while seeking forgiveness for his actions, his wicked sense of humor doesn’t bode well for him here.  Not to mention the film invites sympathy for Alig which even after three movies I still have none to give. 

Overall despite the sensational aspects of the crime, the scene itself and my own soft spot for the 2003 dramatization (which Alig himself admired despite claims Culkin got it wrong), I’m inclined to give Glory Daze a pass for, I’m sorry to say, amateurishly retreading the same ground walked by The Shockumentary and Party Monster.   The subject is indeed a crime scene you can’t look away from, tapping into the same fascination shows like Making a Murderer so brilliantly continue to exploit.  But at the same time, I got bored having to be led by the hand through all the same details I came to know chapter and verse from the previous two movies I sat through.  During a scene late in the film where Alig and a friend proceed to watch the aforementioned documentaries for their own assessment, you have to wonder why they go through the trouble of telling us everything when it’s no secret two other films on the subject already exist.  Somewhere in here is a compulsively watchable documentary about a troubled and still potentially dangerous man’s release from prison and attempts at atonement, but it just gets bogged down by the needless recap of events already provided to us over ten years ago.  It could use a trim or two.


- Andrew Kotwicki