In earlier, more innocent times, parties were simple community celebrations, brave stabs at civilization, sweet as the frontier weddings in John Ford movies. Like everything else, the movieland version of parties degenerating with the onslaught of the modern era. The Nazi homo romps in The Damned. The decay and decadence of Cabaret. The funeral scene in The Wild Angels, the bikers all screwing and drinking on the altar, the widow throwing back her veil and screaming, "It's party time!" Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, luring William Holden back to her house with the promise of an A-list gathering, but it's only the two of them wrapped in claustrophobic luxury, serenaded by a blindfolded orchestra. The party as sex trap, deception, insane asylum, prison. Something evil.

And now it's party as omnipresent entity, a constant series of diminishing returns and the triumph of hope over experience. The new Cuban restaurant Larios on the Beach, opening last week with a touch of hometown glitz in the form of Gloria Estefan and Latin synergist/hustler Jeb Bush. The grand opening party for the Stephen Talkhouse, featuring the zydeco band Loup Garou. Third Rail's "Interstella" and this Friday's "Big Life." A Film Society of Miami fund raiser at Giovanni Club restaurant in the Sheraton Four Ambassadors, featuring appearances by Miami Film Festival co-programmers Jerry Winters and Stephen Bowles, and the ultimate woman-who-has-suffered, Rosario Kennedy. A series of encounters leading to an approximation of real news, more club skirmishes. Fifth Street's Tuesday-only "Red Room" dealing with an interesting coup d'etat, given that The World in South Miami happens to be promoting virtually the same name and concept, also on Tuesday night. A tour of the Fifth Street version -- replete with day-glo paintings of Prince and James Brown, long-time disc jockey Charles Alexander and technician Brett Thorngren -- uncovering irate club co-owner Jose Gonzalez: "The doorman, Maui Fernandez, had some personal problems with the team. So he went ahead and registered the name `Red Room' with the state. Then, right in my face, he's passing out flyers promoting his `Red Room' at The World. I told the owner of The World that this was a bad precedent to set, to let promoters get away with this. Business is business, but I'm fucking shocked."

Ex-doorman Maui Fernandez, installed at The World, lashing back, as people will: "I brought in the people, not the disc jockey, and so I decided to move the club. It's no skin off my back if he wants to make this personal. We're calling it The World's `Red Room' now anyway." The much-beleaguered Fifth Street also fighting another motion last Friday from the Zoning Board of the City of Miami Beach to revoke their variance to sell liquor within 300 feet of South Pointe Elementary, attorney and club co-owner Bob Amsel on the offensive: "There is a nebulous and unfounded allegation that we're not in harmony with the surrounding neighborhood." A continuation of the hearing has been set for August 24.

Problems also coming up at Boomerang/The Cave, with the team of Michael Capponi and Gary James -- responsible for the club's Friday and Saturday nights -- pulling out this past July 18. Among other arguments, a disagreement about what constitutes a packed house, various observers noting that Boomerang at its height had very few nights with 1500 to 2000 people. Capponi not too happy: "It's like the old Boomerang with caca on the walls; it's really hard to be creative there. Plus the owners kept tacking on operating expenses to our share of the door, and then there was always an excuse for not paying us. The whole thing is just disgusting. I'm going to Barbados to surf for a month. I hate summer here." Co-owner Michel Gouws taking the hardball approach: "I owe him nothing. Of course no expenses were taken out of the door. We had a deal that I would pay when the club was full, which is 1500 to 2000 people. But they were bringing me only 700 to a thousand. Under a thousand people, I do it myself." The new club Hell at 54 Ocean Drive entering the nightlife fray September 19, according to Marc D'Epinoy, director of advertising and public relations. The opening featuring gourmet cuisine and planned guest appearances by Deee-Lite and Billy Idol. A satanic theme carried out with an admission charge of $6.66 on Thursday nights, among other elements. Good, clean, just conceptually evil fun.

A more lighthearted one-man party in the form of New York eccentric/party crasher/artist/cab driver Richard Osterweil, the subject of a new documentary to be released this fall by Zeitgeist Films. (Locally, the Alliance for Media Arts is in the process of booking the movie.) Produced by Sara Sackner (the daughter of Miami art collectors Ruth and Marvin Sackner) and directed by her husband Andrew Behar, the wonderfully loopy movie following the 39-year-old Osterweil around as he recounts his adventures. Fueled by curiosity ("There's a whole world out there not covered by the New York Times") and a half-baked revolutionary fervor ("I've always wanted to break down the barriers between them and us"), he forges invitations, uses upper-class-sounding aliases, and slips into the inner circle. Some amazing parties along the way: a reception for the King of Spain, a nightclub wake for Andy Warhol, a shiva for Leonard Bernstein.

As he becomes an inevitable presence, Osterweil actually winds up being invited places, but manages to remain an outsider, an artist: "Everyone came to Roy Cohn's funeral, just because they wanted to make sure he was really dead.... Judy Peabody is an icon to me, the first time I saw her it was like: Who is that? What is that? Why is that?.... An interesting frisson develops when you stand next to a celebrity, trying to get photographed.... Sometimes I think my mind is like a roach motel -- facts enter, but they don't leave."

Aside from everything else, Osterweil coming across as that ultimate rarity, a truly happy man: "How much different would my life be if I were rich? I already read all day now, paint all night, and have dinner at Brooke Astor's house." Producer Sara Sackner, a former neighbor of Osterweil's in the Lower East Side, still finding that contentment both infectious and inspiring: "I've been to fancy parties before, and they're usually kind of boring. But Richard tells stories so well, in such a pre-edited visual way, that it's actually better to hear about the parties.... I think he wanted to get it all down on record because he was afraid to wait. Aside from being a hypochondriac, Richard believes in this crazy English thing called spontaneous human combustion -- you know, where people suddenly explode and leave only their feet behind.... He seems to be enjoying the celebrity, but he says he might be a recluse in the next phase." Retiring from the fray, the final stage for any social animal.

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Tom Austin