David Wojnarowicz: The World of Wonder founders find their voice
Since 1991, Randy Barbato & Fenton Bailey have been making the world a more fabulous place through their iconic production company World of Wonder. While some may only know a certain drag-themed reality show, World of Wonder has numerous movies, documentaries, and TV shows under its belt.
From producing important documentaries like Becoming Chaz and I am Britney Jean, to helping bring the iconic film Party Monster to life, the duo have been all around Hollywood and back. Barbato & Bailey have done so much for the LGBTQ+ community to boot – not just with Drag Race.
So it’s no shocker one of the biggest LGBTQ+ activists, David Wojnarowicz, is the latest documentary subject for Barbato & Bailey. Produced by the duo and directed by Chris McKim, Wojnarowicz: F*** You F***** F*****, also known as just Wojnarowicz takes a look at the artist’s career, and his activism at the height of the AIDS crisis.
Available for streaming now in participating Kino Marquee virtual cinemas, Wojnarowicz is the doc to watch. Select open cinemas are also screening the documentary now. You can read our interview with producers Barbato & Bailey below.
How did you both become involved in the film industry initially?
Fenton: Oh my god, it began sometime last century. Randy and I met at film school. And we’ve basically just been working together ever since. That’s the short version. The long version is about six hours long.
Randy: I would just add to that when we started working together, we really weren’t necessarily intending to produce. We were mainly intending to direct but we never had any money. And we never could convince anybody to let us do anything. So producing just became a necessity. It was like, the only way to get things done was for us to produce it. And so we’ve been doing both ever since really.
Obviously attending NYU in the 80s, you were in NYC at its prime as some say. Did you get to experience any of the heyday of NYC nightlife?
Randy: It was in the 1800s. *laughs* We were at NYU film school in the 80s. So we were very much living in the East Village during the East Village 80s art explosion. Fenton and I spent most of our days at the Pyramid Club, which was a few blocks away from where NYU film school was.
In fact, we often cut our editing class to make happy hour at the Pyramid, which is, you know, where we met all the drag queens. So many of the drag queens we’re still friends with today. And also we’re friends with you know, Brian and Jesse from Three Teens Kill Four, and a lot of the people connected to this film.
Do you think that time spent at the Pyramid Club helped lead to the beginnings of your career?
Fenton: I think it wasn’t so much the beginning of our success. It was more like a recognition of our tribe, and a feeling of just being inspired by the queens of the Pyramid, because they just went out and did it. You know, it was a very kind of punk, very pre-Nike “Just do it”. It was not having a lot of resources, but just doing it and that was very much the inspiration to us to just go out there and do it.
Randy: And you know, at that time, the art scene was exploding. There were art galleries you know Gracie mansions, PPOW, all along Avenue A, all over the East Village. From the drag queens to the artists, everybody was just making and producing their own thing. That was where World of Wonder was born.
That whole scene was so inspiring to us. It still is. That’s why it’s so exciting this Wojnarowicz film is coming out. There’s so many reasons why it’s such a special and important film but one of them is just to remind some people and/or educate others about that inspiring East Village art scene.
What made you choose David Wojnarowicz as your latest documentary subject?
Fenton: That was absolutely a point. When Chris came to us and was pitching us the idea of making this film, there were two things. One: he was so clearly obsessed and just immersed in it. He was so passionate about it. But also secondly, we’d a year or so before finished this film about Mapplethorpe. And you know, Mapplethorpe is one of those big names that came out of New York downtown, like Warhol, Basquiat, Haring.
But unlike Mapplethorpe, Wojnarowicz was so less well-known. And in kind of complete contrast to Mapplethorpe, whose work was so sort of perfect and you know, high end, Wojnarowicz had this unpronounceable name, and his work was this sort of chaos. So it just felt like a great kind of different experience.
Did you guys have a personal connection to David Wojnarowicz?
Fenton: I remember those burning house stencils everywhere all over the East Village. I don’t actually remember meeting David Wojnarowicz, personally. We did see Three Teens Kill Four performing, and we knew Jesse who was in the band, and Brian as well. And Julie.
We knew the three teens in Three Teens Kill Four, but we didn’t know him personally. But the East Village and his stencil work was just sort of – they were one in the same thing, you know?
In the documentary, will we be able to see all of Wojnarowicz’s life, or do you just focus on his activism and art career?
Fenton: It’s a complete thing. It’s a whole thing, yeah. I mean, because it’s hard to separate one piece out from the other. I think that was one of the things that was so interesting about that East Village, downtown phenomenon. Everything was all mixed up together. People were artists and they were activists, and they were singers and performers. It was sort of everything all at once.
Randy: I’ll give you an objective assessment: the Wojnarowicz film is a beautiful and moving, immersive and incredibly intimate film that gives you his life story, and also takes you on a tour of the East Village art scene in the 80s. And, it sort of predicts the times we are living in now.
On the one hand, a very quiet, intimate, and authentic film. But on the other hand, it’s incredibly powerful. It’s directed by Chris McKim. Again, a very objective point of view about it, but you’re going to need to run to the theater to see it.
Fenton: David was so prolific, spewing out material. Diaries and tapes and paintings and poems and photographs taken. And so he left behind just a great body of work. But it, as Randy says, is very immersive. I think that the overriding thing is you feel you’ve spent an afternoon or an evening with David Wojnarowicz. He’s gone, but I think this film really brings him to life.
What would be your favorite project you’ve created over the years?
Randy: Well, you know, we’ve worked with RuPaul. For forty years, almost. So we’re like family. We have so many of the same beliefs, and . . . I don’t know, Ru, Tammy Faye, the Club Kids.
Fenton: Well, I know one that you won’t mention, which is Britney Spears, because I’m a lifelong Britney Spears fan. And we made a film documenting her road to her Las Vegas residency, which was a personal highlight.
As you mention RuPaul, the three of you have done a lot of work together over the years. How do you think he’s grown since then?
Fenton: Like Randy says, “it’s like family.” And I think, you know, Randy and I both have very clear memories of the first time we saw Ru. There are a few times in your life when you when something happens, and you immediately know that it’s an enormous shift, you know, that this is a big moment in your life.
Randy and I just looked at each other, and we’re like, “Who the f*ck is that? He is a major star.” It was almost like comedy gold, like, we just looked at each other. And I think so many of the people from that time in that period, and let’s face it, let’s do that.
Why is Wojnarowicz such an important subject for a documentary?
Fenton: We also have to say the ones who’ve lived and survived, because, you know, tragically, so many didn’t. Sometimes in a family-type situation, it’s hard to stand outside of it, and analyze it and sort of be very Oprah-like about it. It’s hard to define or explain what that dynamic is. But, there is a bond and, I suppose, it goes back to this idea of not having a lot, and just putting on a show.
Plus that idea, I suppose as now, especially downtown New York was in the grip of an epidemic, and people were dying. I think that brought out people’s sense of defiance – you just got to get on with it. And by the way, I think that’s what makes Wojnarowicz such a resonant voice right now, in this particular time.
Because he was the first to point the finger at a government that wasn’t taking a deadly, serious epidemic seriously. And in fact, perhaps, they even wanted people to die. And I think that we’ve seen, tragically, the very same mindset repeat itself, on an enormous scale just this past year.
Randy: And it’s also why the Wojnarowicz film is so important for people to see, especially young people. To be reminded of what it is, what it takes to be a warrior, and why it’s important. You know, we saw with Trump, how close we are to slipping into the dark abyss.
You know, it takes strong and uncompromising voices to keep us from going into the darkness. Sometimes I feel like I’m gonna sound like such an old man, but you know, it’s just important for young people to know how to fight and to know how to speak truth to power. Hopefully, a new generation of people will not only fall in love with his artwork, but be inspired by, you know, the core of his being.
If David Wojnarowicz was still alive today, what do you think he would say looking at our current political and healthcare system, and how we handle LGBTQ+ issues?
Fenton: Well I think he’d say two things. One is “I told you so.” I think the other thing he’d say is “To the barricades!” As Randy said, we can’t be complacent and we have to continue to speak truth to power and be outspoken.
I mean, thank goodness Trump isn’t president right now. But we can’t afford to forget that, what was it, 79 million people voted for him? So you know, the threat there, and the threat is still real.
Not to jump around, but with the recent passing of Michael Alig, and activity in the club world again, do you ever see yourselves returning to do more projects relating to Party Monster?
Fenton: I think two things. One is, you know, I think the Club Kids would definitely prescient about today’s selfie-obsessed social media environment. I think they sort of almost acted it out before it existed, in a pre-internet way. So I think they were very prescient.
And also, Randy and I have been filming with James St. James. We filmed James and Michael, from Michael’s release from prison until very recently. We think there’s more to tell the story of the Club Kids. I know, we’ve done a documentary about it, and we made a feature film about it with Macaulay Culkin, but it’s still a world and a story that draws us in.
I think we were trying to make a documentary about Club Kids before Angel was murdered. I think that sort of paradox is what enabled us to raise the money to make Party Monster. But also, you know, there were elements to the Club Kids, that we didn’t really get to fully explore in terms of the ideas and the creativity. It would be great to be able to do that.
Wojnarowicz is available in Kino Marquee virtual cinemas. The doc is also out now in select open cinemas around the U.S.