'Who the F**k is That Guy? The Fabulous Journey of Michael Alago': Film Review

Courtesy of XLrator Media
An uneven but enjoyable trip through New York's 1980s music scene.
7/21/2017

Drew Stone recounts the unlikely trajectory of Michael Alago through the music business and beyond.

Representing a growing microgenre of "they knew everybody!" documentary portraits (think of the recent Danny Says), Drew Stone's Who the F**ck is That Guy shows how total, unabashed music fandom took a nobody from New York City's far reaches to the heart of the music business. Starting off as just a kid who attended every live show he could manage, Michael Alago soon become a tastemaker who (among other things) helped introduce the world to Metallica. Despite its very modest production values and narrow scope, this friendly doc is one more small chapter in the ongoing oral history of Downtown Manhattan around the turn of the Eighties, and will be appreciated by those who just can't hear enough.

As a Puerto Rican kid living in the insular Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park in Brooklyn, Alago spent as much time as he could going out. His mother didn't mind, and apparently neither did bouncers: "I was 16, and looked like I was 12 and a half," he recalls, but he nevertheless became a regular at Max's Kansas City and other hotspots, befriending everyone who was anyone. (Photos taken with Bruce Springsteen, Debbie Harry and David Lee Roth demonstrate his sociability while proving just how underage he in fact looked.)

After a bit of scene-setting, talking of the East Village's glory days and introducing some who survived them (Cyndi Lauper, filmmaker Dito Montiel, playwright Eric Bogosian), the movie shows how quickly Alago went from running a little Dead Boys fanzine to getting work at the just-opened Ritz, an influential rock club operating in the historic building that is now Webster Hall. ("Now" being the operative word: Webster is about to close, due to transform into a venue that sounds considerably more corporate.)

At the Ritz, Alago was the assistant to impressario Jerry Brandt (familiar to rock-doc fans from Jobriath A.D., which painted him as a creep and manipulator); but he soon became the club's booker, and was instrumental in putting on shows by pre-stardom acts like U2 and Duran Duran. He then graduated to Elektra Records, where he held a coveted A&R job at the ripe age of 21.

As he becomes a fixture at the city's heavy-metal shows, the film's emphasis on Alago's homosexuality becomes more interesting: With the genre's musicians and fans often accused of homophobia, one would think an openly gay man would have difficulty. But according to the film, Alago was recognized as a headbanger whose knowledge of the scene demanded respect. That big expense account, and the ability to hand out record deals, probably had something to do with musicians' acceptance.

Alago's claim to fame is getting Metallica signed. Interviewed individually, each member of the group makes it clear that he was no hit-and-run label lackey; he was deeply involved with and loved by the band. The same holds for White Zombie, signed by Alago after he moved to Geffen Records.

Why did he leave Elektra? Who hired him at Geffen? The doc says nothing, and at some point a skeptical viewer may suspect its account has been overly molded to emphasize its subject's successes. (Frustratingly, the film can't afford to include any of the music he had a hand in producing and promoting.)

Then comes the dark material familiar from any rise-fall-comeback showbiz doc. Alago drank too much, did too many drugs, went on weeks-long blackout binges. And as is foreshadowed early on, he tested positive for HIV. He almost died before being prescribed the cocktail of drugs that saved him, and as Stone shows how he pulled himself back from the brink, the movie's real motivations come into focus. Uninterested in explaining why he didn't return to the music business, Stone and his interviewees just want to celebrate the fact that Alago is alive, reborn as a photographer. As one of the much-too-rare survival stories from the epidemic that killed many of his peers, The Fabulous Journey of Michael Alago is too relieved to be critical.

 

Production company: Stone Films NYC

Distributor: XLRator

Director-Screenwriter: Drew Stone

Producers: Michael Alex, Drew Stone

Executive producers: Peter Spirer, Gillian McCain, Rob Zombie, Michael Alex, Peter Darrell, Jane Ormerod, Vinayak Singh

Editors: Drew Stone, Alan Dubin

Venue: Nitehawk Cinema

 

77 minutes

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