With his life and creative partner Fenton Bailey, filmmaker Randy Barbato carved a distinctive niche in film and television with his nonfiction works about such intriguing pop-culture subjects as the infamously groomed ex-wife of fallen TV evangelist Jim Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2000), before trying his hand at dramatic features with the adaptation of his and Bailey's documentary Party Monster (1998) in 2003.
A native of New Jersey, Barbato attended graduate film school at New York University in the late '80s, where he met classmate and fellow pop-culture enthusiast Bailey. Along with dabbling in music as the Pop Tarts, the pair dropped out of N.Y.U. to form their production company, World of Wonder, in 1990. Based in their tiny New York apartment, World of Wonder notched its first production with the series Manhattan Cable, a compilation of clips from New York City's strange and risqué public-access cable programs, for British TV. Barbato and Bailey subsequently executive produced Hollywood Fashion Machine (1995) for AMC and The RuPaul Show (1996) for VH1. Building on those credits, Barbato and Bailey relocated to Los Angeles in the mid-'90s, where they focused on such L.A.-based subjects as Ellen DeGeneres' decision to come out on her TV series in The Real Ellen Story (1997) and the O.J. Simpson murder case in Juror Number 5: 58 Days of Duty on the O.J. Simpson Civil Trial (1998). Barbato and Bailey began to earn serious attention as directors as well as producers, however, with the Emmy-winning Cinemax documentary Party Monster, about the strange life and violent downfall of New York City club kid-turned-murderer Michael Alig. Barbato and Bailey garnered more kudos for their next directorial project, the Cinemax documentary 101 Rent Boys (2000), about the lives of 101 Los Angeles male hustlers.
Barbato and Bailey affirmed their cinematic "compassion for outsiders" that same year with their first theatrical release, The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Intrigued by former media punch line Tammy Faye Bakker's self-awareness when they met with her about a potential TV project, Barbato and Bailey instead decided to make a documentary about her, revealing the person behind the infamous makeup and image as disgraced PTL televangelist Jim Bakker's avaricious spouse. Featuring interviews with Bakker's inner circle and judiciously deployed touches of kitsch, The Eyes of Tammy Faye became a hit at the Sundance Film Festival and an award-winning art-house success. Continuing to explore the lives of famous pariahs as well as expose lesser-known facets of pop-culture history, Barbato and Bailey next directed the well-received AMC documentary Out of the Closet, Off the Screen: The William Haines Story (2001), about the former silent movie star who was ostracized by the studios in the 1930s for refusing to play down his homosexuality.
By 2003, Barbato and Bailey had built World of Wonder into a sizable, prolific company, with Barbato and Bailey executive producing, and occasionally directing, such projects as Andy Warhol: The Complete Picture (2002), Gay Hollywood (2003), Dark Roots: The Unauthorized Anna Nicole (2003), and School's Out: The Life of a Gay High School in Texas (2003) for British and American TV. Maintaining their directorial focus on the fallout of America's "celebritocracy" and taste for salacious scandal, Barbato and Bailey let infamous presidential intern Monica Lewinsky speak for herself in the HBO documentary Monica in Black and White (2002). Finally free of the legal gag order regarding her relationship with former President Bill Clinton, Barbato and Bailey filmed Lewinsky as she answered all of the questions posed to her by a live audience, showing that the media bimbo with the stained dress was also a human being. Barbato and Bailey subsequently returned to directing feature documentaries with Inside Deep Throat (2003), delving into another vital moment in the history of American sexual culture. Initiated and backed by producer Brian Grazer, Inside Deep Throat examined the impact of landmark porn feature Deep Throat (1972) on the sexual revolution.
Though documentaries remained their primary focus, Barbato and Bailey added a scripted dramatic film to their credits with the feature version of Party Monster (2003). Based on their documentary and club kid James St. James' book Disco Bloodbath, Party Monster re-created the singular New York City nightclub scene in intimately shot digital video and starred former apple-cheeked Home Alone (1990) imp Macaulay Culkin in an image-changing performance as the Midwestern-born flamboyant party boy/drugged out killer Alig.