Camp vs. Kitsch: It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…

Originally published on Camp vs. Kitsch.

Comic book movies have been so hot lately, it’s easy to forget that they haven’t always been so. But, like anything with devoted fans, even the acknowledged worst of the worst — in this case, that is undoubtedly Howard the Duck — have their staunch defenders. You have to understand, part of the horror of the Howard movie is that the comic book on which it is based is pretty much a work of genius. I know, if you’ve only ever seen the movie, that claim is hard to wrap your mind around. But it’s true. Don’t believe me? Go look. There’s a cheap, $15 “Essential Howard the Duck” paperback available now with most of the original Howard appearances all in one, black and white book. There’s also a hefty, hardcover color Howard Omnibus that’s worth checking out if you’re either loaded or a patron at a well-stocked library.

The film, which starred a punked up Lea Thompson and the voice of Broadway actor Chip Zien (better remembered as the Baker in the original cast of Into the Woods), has so many head-scratcher moments, but nothing tops the grand finale Howard the Duck musical number…

Sing it, Lea!
What could possibly go head to head with this unredeemable kitsch? It would be tempting to throw up a clip of the 60s Batman television show, particularly one with a deliciously camp guest star like Liberace or Ethel Merman. But since part of my mission here is to share some of my private Camp obsessions, I feel obligated instead to share a scene from It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman, the musical based on the Man of Steel, from the songwriters who brought you Bye, Bye, Birdie. The show, which ran on Broadway for a few months in 1966, is nowadays remembered as a pretty entertaining campfest that unfortunately just missed the moment when campiness was in for superheroes.

For reasons that just don’t make any sense to me, the show was resurrected as a late night television movie in 1975, done on an incredibly low budget with horribly “updated” orchestrations. I haven’t seen the whole broadcast (although it’s on my list for a future trip to the Paley Center), but what I have seen is mostly disappointing because it sucks a lot of the fun out of the songs. (The original cast album of the Broadway production is a lot of fun.)

Anyway, I couldn’t find this number in its entirety on YouTube, but I think the clip of David Wilson singing “Pow! Bam! Zonk!” gives you enough of a taste of the show…

Pow! Bam! Zonk!


Camp vs. Kitsch: Wishing You A Joyous Life Day

Originally published on Camp vs. Kitsch

Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the Star Wars Holiday Special, the timeless classic in which Han and Luke help Chewie return home to celebrate “Life Day” with his family on his home planet. The special starred all the original Star Wars actors, plus Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, Jefferson Starship, and she who had yet to become everyone’s favorite Golden Girl, Bea Arthur. The special is best remembered for introducing the character of Boba Fett in an animated sequence, and worst remembered for generally sucking in every possible way.

I was only eight months old when the special aired, so I can’t speak for what the hooplah around its original airing might have been. The special has taken on an unintended life as an object of fascination in part because it seems to be the only Star Wars artifact that George Lucas will not exploit to enlarge his coffers. So the question that plagues me is this: was the special originally created as a cash-grab to milk the then-new Star Wars phenomenon, or was this actually an attempt at artistic expression by Lucas (in which case, none of us have anyone to blame for our surprise at the suckitude of the prequels except for ourselves). In other words, does this qualify as Camp, or was it only ever intended to be kitsch?

And then there’s Maude…
What could possibly hold up in competition against this… whatever it is? Clearly, I needed to go back to the well of Christmas Specials, and to level the playing field, I thought it would help to focus on pop culture obsessions of the late 1970s. And next to Star Wars, what was the biggest pop culture obsession of the late 1970s? Annie. And luckily, the original Broadway cast of Annie also produced a Christmas special. I’ve seen less of this one than the Star Wars special, but there’s a clip on YouTube featuring the late Dorothy Loudon, the Tony-winning actress who created the role of Miss Hannigan, trying to coax the orchestra into playing at the Christmas party.

Friends of Dorothy?
So here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure the Annie Christmas Special was definitely a cash grab, or at best a sort of infomercial for the show. But for my money, I’d say this clip is far classier and more entertaining than anything in the entire Star Wars special. To be fair, I am pitting what is likely the best moment of the Annie show from what is among the worst moments (of a show full of worse and worse moments). But, it’s my blog so there you go. Want to argue? Click on the comment button. And whatever you think, cast your vote!

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Camp vs. Kitsch: Battle of the Late Night Advertisements

Originally published on Camp vs. Kitsch.

It’s not a great secret that kitsch sells. But when serious minded advertisements transcend their origins into Camp, does it ultimately help the product? Thankfully, this is not the kind of blog that utilizes any sort of thoughtful examination of statistics. (But if you know of any, by all means, leave a comment.) It is, however, the kind of blog that dredges up wonderful YouTube videos so that you can vote for your favorite.

Today’s competition pits the ultimate kitschy item’s ultimate kitschy ad against a really important service that nonetheless launched a catchphase that undoubtedly sold more novelty products than subscriptions to the service. Yes folks, in the kitsch corner, we have CHIA PET, “The Pottery That Grows.” And in the camp corner, I give you LIFE CALL, complete with “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”



Now I will admit, I may be biased in part because my family actually subscribed to Life Call for my grandmother, whereas I don’t believe I ever met a real Chia Pet in the wild. Plus, I think “Chia Tree, to keep your pets company” seals the deal. However, Amy votes for Life Call, “Not for the old people (I feel bad thinking
they’re funny), but primarily for the guy who answers the call all
‘Right away, Mr. Stevenson.'”

Where do you stand?


Camp vs. Kitsch: Kindergarten: The Musical!

Originally published on Camp vs. Kitsch.

One of my favorite Camp artifacts of all time is the out-of-print album The Barry Sisters Sing Fiddler On The Roof, with my absolute favorite track being the bongo-driven “Far From The Home I Love.” While waxing rhapsodic about this track, I went to YouTube to see if there could possibly be other renditions of the song that rivaled my favorite. I’m not sure why I clicked on this one, but boy did I hit jackpot:

6 year old Lola Uliano
Well, needless to say, this one outcamps anything the Barry Sisters ever did, so I had to go searching for something kitschy enough to possibly rival this. I showed the clip to my friend Amy, to which she responded:

Okay, I might change my mind about this, but right now I’m thinking that ALL musicals should be done with an all-kindergarten cast.

At least once.

That’s all I needed to hear to remember Kevin Smith’s brilliantly kitschy move of utilizing Sweeney Todd in his film Jersey Girl. The film wasn’t great, but the highlight was undoubtedly the school talent show, in which Raquel Castro (as Ben Affleck’s daughter) enlists all the adults in her life to recreate “God That’s Good” for her elementary school. You might want to fast foward past the first 45 seconds of Liv Tyler playing Toby. Or maybe not.

Jersey Girl does Sweeney Todd

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Camp vs. Kitsch: Desperately Seeking Susan

Originally published on Camp vs. Kitsch.

The idea behind this blog is simple. We’re going to examine the phenomena of camp and kitsch, using YouTube as a vehicle. Each entry will present two videos on the same or similar subjects, the only difference between them being whether they fall into the camp or kitsch sensibility. There will be a poll, all you lovely people out there in the internet will vote, and we’ll see if there’s a clear trend to prefer one to the other.

Unsure of the difference between camp and kitsch? Have no fear, here’s a quick refresher:

CAMP was famously defined by Susan Sontag in her 1964 essay, “Notes on Camp.” Sontag’s main points include that to be campy, a piece of art must necessarily be marginal. In Sontag’s words, “uhe ultimate Camp statement: it’s good because it’s awful.”

KITSCH, according to Sontag, isn’t necessarily a discrete category separate from camp. However, Sontag writes, “Camp taste nourishes itself on the love that has gone into certain objects and personal styles. The absence of this love is the reason why such kitsch items as Peyton Place (the book) and the Tishman Building aren’t Camp.”

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