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Arts and Entertainment

Short Film Takes Us Inside Americana Enthusiast Charles Phoenix's Home

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If you haven't had the pleasure of being acquainted with history buff and kitsch enthusiast Charles "Ambassador of Americana" Phoenix, perhaps this short video via filmmaker Matthew Kaundart can serve as your introduction.

Kaundart has been making a series of short films on L.A. artists and personalities, including Echo Park’s “Phantasma Gloria” sculptor Randy Lawrence and cardboard artist Calder Greenwood. His newest short, “This Is Americana!” offers a glimpse into Phoenix's home and how he became the larger-than-life personality he is today.

California native Charles Phoenix does many things, but he's perhaps best known for his retro slideshow presentations. He is the consummate showman, dressing in vibrant suits and flashy accessories, and delivering humorous, historical anecdotes with the panache of a charismatic gameshow host. He describes the performances as "celebrations of classic and kitschy American lifestyle."

Phoenix has dozens of boxes of these Kodachrome slides in his home, all organized on a series of tall shelves. His first box—labeled "Trip Across the United States, 1957"—was purchased at a thrift store when he was 30 years old. The single snapshots of roadside travel and Americana fascinated him. "I've never looked back since," he says.

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He first gave a presentation of the slides for his friends in his living room, one of whom suggested he take the show to the California Map and Travel Center, where they were featuring slideshows every Monday evening. Phoenix obliged, and when he got his first laugh from the audience, he was sold on the idea.

According to Phoenix's bio, he grew up in Ontario where he hung out at malls, theme parks and his dad's used car lot. Prior to becoming a retro showman, he worked as a fashion designer and a classic car salesman. You can next see Phoenix when he delivers his Retro Holiday Slide Show at Curtis Theater in Brea, December 17 and 18. A full list of his upcoming shows and tours can be found on his website here.