I walked into the main auditorium at the Michigan Theater and was dumbstruck by the sea of Santa hats. We had arrived more than a half-hour before the annual sing-along screening of White Christmas, but we were having a hard time finding seats. We donned our own Santa hats, courtesy of the prop bag that came with our tickets, and joined in the carol singing that precedes the main event each year. Near showtime we hadn’t finished singing all of the chestnuts in the booklet we got at the door, and Michigan Theater program operations director Amanda Bynum, who leads the proceedings on stage in a campy lady Santa costume, was anxious to get to her favorite, “The Chipmunk Song.” The audience obliged her, crooning “Me, I want a hula-hoop!” in our best rodent falsettos.
The appeal of this annual screening of White Christmas has very little to do with the film and far more to do with the camaraderie of fellow goofballs. Bynum led a parade of folks in their best (worst?) Christmas sweaters up on stage before the film. And some people even came in costume. A guy in all black with a little beret cracked me up–he was dressed as Danny Kaye in the film’s hilarious modern dance send-up, “Choreography.” The couple I saw in formal 1920s attire at a Downton Abbey preview the year before was dressed in “Sister, Sister” regalia, complete with turquoise feathers. They’re people I’d like to get to know.
I was reminded why seeing an old film at the Michigan is such a big deal: They manage to turn what might have been a pleasant movie night at home into an extraordinary community experience. For one thing, there’s all the swag. A half-dozen kitschy props aid our silliness: everything from glow stick “lighters” to hold up when Bing Crosby sings “White Christmas” and poppers for the finale to clappers and bubbles (“snow”). Though the last had infuriating packaging that was nearly impossible to open, the bubbles looked quite magical lit by the silver screen.
The people who come are a self-selecting group who appreciate the film’s campy nostalgia. After all, the plot is a bare tree. Hey, gang, let’s go to Vermont for some snow this Christmas! Uh-oh, there ain’t any. Oh well, cue Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. And if the honeyed magic of their voices isn’t enough to hold it all together, there are also a couple of love stories that unfold while Crosby and Kaye help out an old army pal. Not to mention some killer dance numbers with Kaye and actress Vera-Ellen.
Not only is this a sing-along version of the film–with lyrics on screen–but there are also inside jokes peppered throughout the captions, pointing out continuity errors or unintentionally funny poses you never noticed. Watching it all at the Michigan Theater with what felt like a couple hundred of our closest friends, it seemed like we were watching our own home movies, giggling over what used to pass for cool and genuinely relishing what still passes for top-shelf holiday cheer. As an added bonus for the next two weeks, we got a kick out of our four-year-old randomly singing, “Lord help the sister who comes between me and my man!”
This year’s sing-along screening of White Christmas takes place November 25.