With his partner Randy Barbato, producer and director Fenton Bailey made his name with documentaries about such outrageous yet fascinating pop-culture subjects as the wife of disgraced TV evangelist Jim Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2000), before branching out into dramatic films with the feature version of their 1998 documentary Party Monster in 2003.
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Born in Great Britain, Bailey attended graduate film school in the U.S. at New York University, where he met life and business partner Barbato. The pair dropped out of school to form their production company World of Wonder in 1990; they also performed as a tongue-in-cheek musical duo called the Pop Tarts. Bailey and Barbato turned to filmmaking in earnest, however, when they decided to amuse themselves by editing together choice clips from New York City's racy and bizarre public access cable TV shows, and turned it into the British TV series Manhattan Cable. Stateside, World of Wonder produced the series Hollywood Fashion Machine (1995) for AMC and The RuPaul Show (1996) for VH1. Though New York remained a source of creative inspiration, Bailey and Barbato moved to Los Angeles in the mid-'90s. They began to attract serious attention as documentary directors with the Emmy-winning Cinemax program Party Monster (1998), about the strange life and ignominious downfall of New York club kid-turned-murderer Michael Alig. Adding Los Angeles subjects to their repertoire, Bailey and Barbato also produced Juror Number 5: 58 Days of Duty on the O.J. Simpson Civil Trial (1998), and garnered accolades again for the Cinemax documentary 101 Rent Boys (2000), about 101 male hustlers who work L.A.'s Santa Monica Boulevard.
Bailey and Barbato's avowed sympathy for cultural pariahs and gift for tapping into the celebrity zeitgeist created a stir on the art-house circuit that same year with the fond yet humorous documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Impressed by Tammy Faye Bakker when they met with her about a possible TV project, Bailey and Barbato decided to make a feature documentary about her instead. Gaining access to Tammy Faye's circle, as well as Tammy Faye herself, The Eyes of Tammy Faye showed that the title subject was more than her infamous makeup sense and tarnished image as the equally greedy wife of fallen PTL leader Bakker. A hit at the Sundance Film Festival, The Eyes of Tammy Faye went on to repeat that success when it was released in theaters later that year. Bailey and Barbato subsequently merged their focus on famous outsiders with their interest in illuminating previously little-known aspects of pop culture history with the AMC documentary Out of the Closet, Off the Screen: The William Haines Story (2001), about the silent film star who refused to deny his homosexuality and was blackballed by the movie studios in the 1930s.
With World of Wonder firmly established by the early 2000s, Bailey and Barbato divided their efforts between executive producing such TV projects as From the Waist Down: Men, Women & Music (2001), Andy Warhol: The Complete Picture (2002), and School's Out: The Life of a Gay High School in Texas (2003) for American and British TV, and directing such intriguing works as Dark Roots: The Unauthorized Anna Nicole (2003) themselves. Bailey and Barbato once again displayed their skill at delving deeper into the lives of people at the center of famous scandals with their HBO documentary Monica in Black and White (2002). Aided by the expiration of her legal gag order regarding her relationship with President Bill Clinton as well as her willingness to speak, Bailey and Barbato filmed Presidential paramour Monica Lewinsky as she answered any and all questions asked of her by a live audience. As with Tammy Faye Bakker, Bailey and Barbato's camera revealed that there was a bit more to their subject than just the news media's bimbo in a stained blue dress. Turning their attention to another key moment in the cultural history of sexuality, Bailey and Barbato decided not to make a dramatic feature about 1970s porn star Linda Lovelace as producer Brian Grazer originally suggested, and instead directed the documentary Inside Deep Throat (2003), chronicling the watershed porn feature Deep Throat's (1972) place in the sexual revolution.
Bailey and Barbato finally tried their hands at scripted feature films with the adaptation of Party Monster in 2003. Based on their own documentary as well as fellow club kid James St. James' book Disco Bloodbath, and shot with "realistic" flair in digital video, Party Monster recreated the New York night club scene in all its jaw-dropping glory, and allowed Macaulay Culkin to lose his cherubic child-star image for good with his star turn as the floridly costumed, sexually flamboyant, drug-addled Alig. ~ Lucia Bozzola, Rovi