Field trip to Willis Wonderland included in UCLA's summer kitsch & camp course

Here's a super-cool opportunity for the right summer scholar. UCLA is offering a course starting in June that includes a field trip to Willis Wonderland, the incredible bubble-gum pink former home of late great songwriter Allee Willis. You'll likely remember her from songwriting credits that include Earth, Wind & Fire's "September" and "Boogie Wonderland," as well as the "Friends" theme and "The Color Purple" musical.

So Bad It's Good! Image: Willis Wonderland Foundation.

Professor Dolores McElroy teaches "So Bad It's Good: Kitsch & Camp Film Aesthetics," which is a collaboration with the Willis Wonderland Foundation and, come mid-summer, students taking it will venture to Allee's former North Hollywood home to choose an object from her personal "living kitsch archive" to write about. And what a collection it is! It's a real treasure mid-century treasure trove of soul and disco memorabilia, spaghetti lamps, and oh-so-much more. Allee wasn't called the "Queen of Kitsch" for nothing!

The course also includes a screening of "The World According to Allee Willis" which is a wonderful new documentary directed by Alexis Spraic that looks at Allee's life from a different angle: her struggle with being queer.

However, the focus of the course extends well beyond Allee's estate, her personal collections, or her life story. It's a broader examination of kitsch and camp film aesthetics, as per the course description:

What is "kitsch?" Often used as an all-purpose pejorative for the "bad taste" of the masses, for years kitsch was seldom explicitly defined, but nearly always derided. But in the postmodern era, "kitsch" took on new life, as artists, filmmakers, and designers consciously appropriated these "bad objects" of the past, remixing and revaluing yesterday's detritus. "Camp," on the other hand, is, in the words of Susan Sontag, "in the eye of the beholder." Sometimes defined as an interpretive style, camp is sensibility which perceives an irony between a thing and its context. In some ways, "camp" is what allows us to appreciate "kitsch" in a pleasurably complex and ironic way.

In this course, we will consider the logics and histories of taste that contribute to various and changing definitions of kitsch and camp, as well as the ways that kitsch and camp manifest in cinema, including B-movie horror, musicals, the imaginaries of Route 66 and Las Vegas, queer avant-garde of filmmaking practices, as in the work of Kenneth Anger and John Waters, as well as in Japanese kawaii and American "tiki culture." We will also investigate the political and colonial histories that underlie these aesthetics.