Jon Bush's documentary Club King is a fascinating look at the life of New York and L.A. club and party promoter Mario Diaz. There's no denying it's a wild and flamboyant ride through the underground gay nightclub scene of the '90s and '00s, but more often than not the film blinds with flash while failing to really show a depth or struggle. It's a party, sure, but whether the audience comes through having learned something is up for debate.
Diaz as a subject is immensely likeable. Here is a man who realized there was money to be made in gay events, and attacked that with an undeniable professionalism, gusto, and sincerity. Having spent more years than I care to admit to backstage at concerts, go-go dance nights, fashion shows, and other performances, it's invigorating to watch Diaz as he carefully crafts looks and styles for each and every portion of his night.
That he takes partying to such serious lengths, even when incorporating impossibly silly things like a Big Piss contest (Yes, you're imagining it correctly) is probably the most engaging aspect of the film. The peripheral is nicely filled out by the outrageous commentary of colleagues and contemporaries like Jackie Beat and Justin Bond ("Someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'I think that guy is dead,' and HE WAS!"). They make for the circus, after all, but Diaz is both ringmaster and quiet competent business man. The dichotomy against the glamor and the drag is gripping.
And yet... we never really scratch the surface of Diaz and what it means to be him. By his own admission being a party promoter allows him to surround himself with people, but he makes it a point of keeping romance at bay and only a few very close friends are his confidants. In short, here is a guy who has lived most of his life as a public figure who is always on, and we never really get to see behind the mask.
Diaz was a driving force in gay culture and sexual expression at a time when the AIDS crisis had left the community devastated and considered deviant and diseased by the mainstream world. He stood up to the Disneyfication of Times Square by Rudy Giuliani and threw a successful career back into the face of a corrupt heterosexual partner. He moved to L.A. to start over shortly before 9/11, and began a whole new life that featured a godson, a band, and a reunion with his estranged mother.
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Sounds fascinating, doesn't it? It should be, but the film just never brings out the drama of Diaz on a really deep level. His veil of affable party guy never falls and the focus remains more on the wild things that he made happen around him rather than the man that was their architect. It's lipstick and fabulous costumes and beautiful men dancing and camp and risk and joy and fun, but at the center there is a king that remains as distant as any monarch has ever been to the mob below him.
I was honestly more enthralled by the journey of Annabel Chong and her goal of breaking the world's largest gangbang record in porn from Gough Lewis' Sex than the rise and... stayed there'dness of Diaz. He seems a wonderful man that's great at his job. And, it's undeniable that without him there would be a segment of gay culture that would have lived in the shadows longer than they should. It's just a shame that Club King never really takes him out of the shadows of the empire he created.
Club King shows tonight at 8 p.m. at F Bar for free.