The Joys Of Kitsch
James Lipton talks Christmas, Rockettes, and getting animated.
Christmas is upon us, and, as anyone who has watched Inside the Actors Studio, or read my memoir "Inside Inside" or my blog last December knows, this is my favorite time of the year.
When I left Michigan decades ago, one of my first authentic New York experiences was "The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular." For some mysterious reason the words "Music Hall" have vanished and it's now simply "The Radio City Christmas Spectacular," but its charms have only grown as its title has shrunk.
Year after year, decade after decade, come December, having no children of my known, I've co-opted (sometimes ruthlessly) my friends' offspring and shepherded them (that sounds like an appropriate term) into the eponymous Art Deco masterpiece that houses what is to me one of America's greatest contributions to the culture of kitsch.
The dictionary defines kitsch as "something of tawdry design, appearance, or content created to appeal to popular or undiscriminating taste," but don't you believe it! There's a place in the world, in art - and in every open heart - for kitsch, and nowhere will you find it more spectacularly displayed than in the aptly named Radio City Christmas Spectacular. From the moment when two - that's right, two - Mighty Wurlitzer organs suddenly roll out of the Music Hall's vast proscenium arch, producing a thunderous chord that nearly stops 6,000 hearts, until ninety unforgettable minutes later when the Christ Child is born before our dazzled eyes on America's largest stage, worshiped by America's largest cast (complete with camels and donkeys), to the accompaniment of America's largest theater orchestra (in the Land of Kitsch, nothing's too good for the holy infant), something happens that can only be described as...well, indescribable.
That's kitsch: indefinable, imperfect perfection aimed straight at the heart - and in this case arriving there in a shower of spangles, sequins and irresistible good cheer.
"Undiscriminating taste," Mr. Webster? Well, maybe the plastic Rockettini cocktail glass (with a stem of svelte dancing legs) for sale in the lobby during a lengthy intermission pushes the "taste" envelope a bit...but no! Any reminder of the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes is worth whatever we pay (in outsize price and inner chagrin) in its acquisition. Time for full disclosure. You see, I'm in love with the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes - collectively, en bloc, en masse. I wouldn't respond to one of them if she fell off the stage into my lap. It's the group, in its perfect precision that won my heart the first time I saw them as a raw youth, fresh from the hinterland. In the words of the poet Yeats, "How shall we know the dancer from the dance?" Right on, W.B.
The Rockettes, lining up for their signature kickline, brought me to helpless tears (don't ask me why; some mysteries are better left unsolved) on that first occasion, and have never failed to open the floodgates in every subsequent encounter.
Over the years, my young guests have glanced uneasily at me and edged away, hoping that our neighbors in the audience won't associate them with the weeping wimp making a Spectacular spectacle of himself next to them. Maybe that's why two generations of co-opted kids have outgrown the Christmas Spectacular and me. But kitsch won't be denied: each year in December my predatory eye roams the landscape, in search of innocents who will spare me the embarrassment of sobbing alone, among strangers (since my wife, Kedakai, has long since abandoned me to my cascading catharsis).
So, dear internet friends, I wish you a Spectacular Christmas if you're anywhere near the Music Hall. I'd also like to offer you an emphatically non-kitsch gift that has begun in December with the Inside the Actors Studio premiere of Daniel Radcliffe, and will continue through the month of January with a parade of premieres: Josh Brolin, Laura Linney, Ricky Gervais, Conan O'Brien (coming to our stage after my 28 appearances on his) and Anthony LaPaglia. I admit I'm biased, but I hope you'll accept that cornucopia of talent as our holiday gift to you, our viewers. And since the holiday season is a time for joyful noise, I hope you'll forgive me if I blow my horn. The paperback edition of my memoir "Inside Inside" has just come into the bookstores; and I'm on the screen at your local Cineplex as John Travolta's director in "Bolt." Since it's a Disney film, I'm animated...or as animated as I can be, Will Ferrell's version of me to the contrary notwithstanding. A very, very Merry Christmas.