If Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato ever "go Hollywood," they'd have to leave town.
Instead, the uncompromising documentarians live and work in the heart of Hollywood, the city -- Bailey in a 1924 English Arts and Crafts bungalow, built by a scenic designer for Cecil B. DeMille above the Magic Castle in Hollywood Heights, and Barbato in a 1927 Spanish movie star manse in Hollywood Dell.
Birthplace of the American fever dream of fame, city of lustrous myths and lurid scandals, Hollywood is more than just an address for Bailey and Barbato, who moved their film and TV production business, World of Wonder, to Los Angeles from New York in 1994. It is the dream factory in which they are able to manufacture surreal and cerebral meditations on the rich and infamous.
"We are storytellers who celebrate the freaks," they have said, explaining a resume that includes films about Tammy Faye Bakker, Monica Lewinsky and Manhattan club-kid killer Michael Alig, and their latest, "Inside Deep Throat."
One could say Bailey and Barbato are a Hollywood story in their own right: two 44-year-old filmmakers -- one an Englishman of the David Niven variety, one a blue-eyed New Jersey Italian with a screwball comedy demeanor -- who for two decades have been romantic as well as professional partners, turning their pop culture obsessions into an industry.
As with every good Hollywood story, theirs has a twist. In the summer of 2003, Barbato moved into his own home, ending their long cohabitation.
"In the words of our respective therapists ... " Bailey begins, "
"We redefined our interpersonal space," Bailey says in mock psychobabble.
"Everybody should try that," Barbato says. "We now have a respect and support for each other that was completely missing when we lived together. And we still are and will always be family."
Over the last four years, designer A.J. Bernard, who wears trim custom-tailored suits and drives a 1979 black Chevy Silverado pickup, has become a part of that family, helping Bailey and Barbato realize working and living spaces that reflect Hollywood design from the 1920s and '30s while showcasing the filmmakers' eccentric tastes. Their two homes are filled with Art Deco and midcentury designs as well as 20th century kitsch such as "Dynasty" dishes and Spice Girls action figures.
Bailey likes art depicting historic events such as the Hindenburg disaster and the sinking of the Titanic; Barbato picks up "interesting wacky things," like a Russian doll in the image of Madonna. Both fill their walls with a mix of contemporary photography, flea market snapshots and art made by friends; both also have loving cups stacked on their bookshelves. "We had a trophy phase," Bailey says, "which is in remission."
"The combination of highbrow and lowbrow exists in our work and our domestic aesthetics," says Barbato.
"People might see our work and think that we were into Modernism," Bailey concedes. Appearances are apparently deceiving, The truth, they both say, is similar to the impression people had "when they saw the inside of Andy Warhol's house. You know he was the king of pop culture, and everyone was surprised when they saw an old, traditional place filled with a lot of stuff." Minimalism is anathema.
"I'd rather live in a Hobbit house than a glass box," Bailey says. "We like to feather our nests."
"Their sensibilities are very similar, and they certainly are collectors," says Bernard, 46, who has had the luxury of knowing his clients since the early '80s when they were all part of the nightclub scene in Manhattan. "I just wanted to create a livable backdrop, one that would work with the architecture and house their ever-growing collections of pop memorabilia."
Bernard's first assignment was the 1924 Arts and Crafts house, which Bailey and Barbato bought together in 1994, the year they created a VH-1 talk show for drag superstar RuPaul and directed "L.A. Stories," a compendium of footage shot by citizens affected by the riots following the Rodney King verdict.
"We pulled up and thought, 'Brown bungalow, yuck!' It didn't have much curb appeal," Bailey recalls.
It did have drama: a two-story wood-paneled living room, a classic Craftsman dining room with a view of Hollywood and a third, lower level that had once housed an architect's office. "It was only 2,500 square feet and basically a box, but the way the rooms were articulated with little nooks and crannies was so clever, it seemed enormous," says Bailey.
Aside from the Craftsman's plum walls and white floorboards, the house was, Bailey recalls "toothbrush ready, as they say in the real estate ads."