Monday, December 21, 2009

Charles Phoenix's Mid-Century Christmas Culture in Kodachrome

L.A.'s own keeper of kitsch, Charles Phoenix, brought his Retro Holiday Slide Show to Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre on Sunday, and Franklin Avenue was there.

It was a rare Sunday afternoon out sans kids (thanks to Maria's mom) -- but after years of not making it to a Charles Phoenix event for one reason or another, the timing was finally perfect.

Phoenix, of course, has become famous for collecting Kodachrome slides from the post-WWII era, in a sense curating a unique slice of Americana. The slides depict average Americans of the 1950s and 1960s in all of their horrific glory -- embarrassing outfits, shocking home decor, bizarre behavior and kitschy, far-out locales that were of that era.

Phoenix stumbled into this career after finding a dusty box of old slides while going thrift shopping. Now, when he's not searching for slides, people are sending their parents' embarrassing old collections to him.

Either way, Phoenix has amassed enough slides to pick out the best of the best for his stage show. It's a simple concept, but works because of Phoenix's larger-than-life personality: Phoenix narrates the slide show as he takes us on a journey through the holidays -- but mostly Christmas and New Years.

That means slides of drunk family members, poorly-dressed Santas, creepy presents (life-sized doll, anyone?) and more. The slides hail from across the country, although most are from right here in Southern California, which is the Ontario-bred entertainer's specialty.

For the show, Phoenix trotted out a mini Christmas tree that had been heavily flocked into a bright red color. (He gave a shout-out to the flockers -- the Christmas tree lot located in the parking lot of Atwater Village's Costco.)

Joining Phoenix was organist Dominic Cangelosi, who also owns Glendale's Moonlight Rollerway. Phoenix had organized a special show earlier this year at the Moonlight -- and hinted that a new show may be in the works for next spring.

After the show, we caught Phoenix as he was running out -- and I asked to take a photo. He said yes, but under two conditions: (A) That it be with Maria, and (B) That the pic be taken in front of the Egyptian mural.

Meanwhile, just in time for the holidays, Phoenix instructs how to make a "Astro-Weenie Christmas Tree," made famous from one of his slides:

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