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  • Writer's picturePaul Burston

Screen Age by Fenton Bailey

More than a memoir, this personal insight into over three decades of film and television makes for a fascinating read. Of course it's helped by the fact that the author is Fenton Bailey, one half of World of Wonder, and responsible for films as diverse as Party Monster (about killer club kid Michael Alig) and The Eyes of Tammy Faye (about the televangelist who showed compassion towards people with AIDS when this was thin on the ground). Together with partner Randy Barbato, Bailey also brought us the world conquering RuPaul's Drag Race. In other words, he knows his stuff.

From the outset, it isn't Bailey who dominates the narrative but Andy Warhol, the pop artist who saw so much of this coming. Bailey makes a convincing case for Warhol as the original influencer and forerunner of reality television. The films Warhol made with Paul Morrissey weren't populated by actors, but by people being themselves – or at least a version of themselves. Referring to them as 'super stars' posed little or no threat to Hollywood but did help shape the future of television.

These days, of course, we really are living in the screen age. Screens dominate our lives, be it the TV, computer or smart phone. Bailey traces the journey from public access television to YouTube, and Warhol's audition tapes to Instagram, where everyone can be famous for 15 minutes - and monetise their mini-celebrity through corporate branding or directing viewers to their OnlyFans.

But mainly this is about the stories that caught the imaginations of Bailey and Barbato, and how television has changed their fortunes and fundamentally reshaped our reality. It's also a book about the journey from the margins to the mainstream, from queer underground artists David Wojnarowiz and Robert Mapplethorpe to former Downtown denizen Madonna and RuPaul's Drag Race. I came away with the feeling that this truly is a world of wonder – and we're living in it.

Screen Age is published by Ebury

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