Randy Barbato

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Heidi Fleiss: The Would-Be Madam of Crystal Review


Good
Sitting for an interview and looking, glaze-eyed, through the soft-focus filter the camera has wrapped her in, a dull-voiced Heidi Fleiss blurts out, "I'm eight days sober." This comes not long after she's rhapsodized about exotic birds at length and come close to comparing herself to Alexander the Great. Given Fleiss' frazzled state and thousand-yard stare, it's impressive that filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (Inside Deep Throat, Party Monster) didn't take the bait and do a number on her. A celebrity has-been, she would have been helpless in the face of a couple of directors who have made their living in the darkened bright lights of fallen fame and fully know how to character assassinate by way of the careful edit.

To Bailey and Barbato's credit, their documentary Heidi Fleiss: The Would-Be Madam of Crystal neither sneers nor chuckles at Fleiss, even as it watches her go through a thoroughly dispiriting and self-induced collapse. Though the film can't help itself from occasionally mocking the country yokels whom Fleiss inexplicably finds herself living amongst, it could have been much worse.

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Party Monster (1998) Review


Good
Another E! True Hollywood Story of someone you've never heard of. Party Monster (like Boys Don't Cry vs. The Brandon Teena Story) was later fictionalized, with Macauley Culkin looking incredibly similar to the real-life club kid Michael Alig. Alig's story is a simple but tragic one: He was a club kid in the 1990s, hopped up on all manner of drugs but equally drugged by the celebrity of clubland -- androgeny, shock tactics, and much more nefarious things. Before long, one of his compatriots named Angel was found beheaded and limbless, locked into a suitcase and tossed into the sea. Alig was booked for the murder. He's deconstructed by his (former) friends and then interviewed from prison to discuss what may have happened. Clocking in at less than an hour, documentarians Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato quickly pack a lot of info into this grisly and grueling story.

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101 Rent Boys Review


Grim
While the world of L.A. male escorts is bound to hold tons of promise for a documentary, it isn't on display here in 101 Rent Boys, a padded and fairly shallow look at 101 members of the gay skin trade. The documentary forgoes insight in favor of being "provocative," which mainly means lots of shots of the subjects' private parts, rarely with any real bearing on what's going on in the movie. (Do I really need to see a prostitute put a cigarette out on his ass?)

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Party Monster (2003) Review


Good
In real life, Michael Alig was a nobody from the Midwest who moved to New York in the 1980s, decided to become absolutely fabulous, and did. He became a nightclub impresario, the "king of the club kids," who reigned over bacchanalian fests with names like "Bloodfeast," did more drugs than a half-dozen Studio 54 habitues, and murdered his dealer, leaving the corpse around his apartment for a few days before hacking it up and dumping the mess into the river. It's nice to see Macauley Culkin working again.

The closest thing to a best friend that Alig had was James St. James (Seth Green), a trust fund kid with pretenses of writing the Great American Novel but who dulled the agony of his writer's block with endless clubbing and drugging. Sauntering about the streets of New York in a collection of designer trash togs, James was the role model for Alig when he first came to town. When Alig started making a name for himself, throwing parties at Limelight for easily-charmed Peter Gatien (Dylan McDermott in a fierce eyepatch), he put together a band of self-created "superstars" decked out in baroque costumes, modeled on Warhol's Factory of people who were famous for being famous, and James was the biggest; after Alig, of course. "I didn't want to be like the drearies and normals," he says, "I wanted to create a world full of color, where everyone could play. One big party that never ends."

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Inside Deep Throat Review


Good
There are relatively few moments in American history that you could correctly refer to as a turning point for the culture, but one of them was almost definitely the moment in 1972 when the Manhattan elite flocked in droves to see the hardcore porn film Deep Throat at a seedy Times Square theater. Cultural upheaval on the scale caused by this eruption of pornography into the mainstream is of course catnip for documentarians and Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. Their Inside Deep Throat has good fun with its subject, even if it ultimately raises more questions than it answers.

The object at the center of the controversy that would rage through the '70s and into the '80s was a porno shot on the cheap in Florida for less than $25,000. It starred a 19-year-old Linda Lovelace, an actress of sorts who had a talent for fellatio which impressed the filmmakers to no end, and Harry Reems, who was originally just the production assistant, but filled in when the male star turned out not to be up to the challenge. An almost unbelievably silly piece of work (even its director, the affable Gerard Damiano, later admits it wasn't a very good film), Deep Throat achieved notoriety both for the famous act by Lovelace (included uncut in the documentary, the sole reason for its NC-17 rating) and for the fact that it was the rare porno at the time which didn't pretend to be showing sex for "educational" purposes but as an end in and of itself.

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The Eyes of Tammy Faye Review


OK
One of America's true oddities, Tammy Faye Bakker has been maligned for well over a decade now, and it's unfortunate (or not, I guess) that this erstwhile loving documentary of her life won't change the public's conception of her very much. While the picture is basically a dutiful retelling of her rise, fall, and semi-rise again, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato go to such lengths to hokify the film (by having RuPaul narrate and using Babe-esque sock puppets to read the inter-scene title cards) that you can't help but feel poor Tammy is being laughed at. Still, her history is a tragic and eye-opening one, and it's a story that you'll absolutely watch until the end -- even if that end is something of a letdown.
Randy Barbato

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