Friday, April 06, 2007

#96 XANADU

This post is for the Trashy Movie Blog-a-Thon hosted @ The Bleeding Tree as well as a new entry in my personal canon: "100 movies i think about when i think about the movies"


A stage version of this 1980 classic is about to open on Broadway but before it does --surely ushering in yet another jokey acknowledgement of Xanadu's kitsch value-- I think it's time to rediscover the film in all of its enduring time-capsule glory. For Xanadu, you see, is not the tongue-in-cheek comedy that it will be reworked as. It's a completely sincere endeavor and, I'd argue, endearingly so. It's not one of those films that are so intentionally bad that it's subversively excellent (see: Showgirls). No, Xanadu is the real deal: a straight-faced musical. It just had the terrible misfortune to celebrate a number of things that would be out of style almost immediately thereafter: roller rinks, disco, legwarmers, greek mythology, album covers … and Olivia Newton-John.

It's easy to dismiss Xanadu for the very things it shamelessly loves but it's a shame to dismiss the shameless if they're also compulsively watchable. What other movie gives you a glimpse into the lost profession of album cover illustration? None that I know of. In what other movie will you see Greek muses come to life from a painting on a brick wall? Even Clash of the Titans didn't have that. What other movie has the wacky chutzpah to give you a pop star as A list as Olivia Newton-John (she is strangely disregarded now but don't be fooled: she was an enormous star with dozens of hits) and put her on rollerskates and in only one baggy outfit for almost an entire film?

Xanadu, like many great musicals of yore, tells a rather silly story. The tale it spins is of a Greek muse with an Australian accent named Kira (Olivia) who inspires a young artist (Michael Beck, the whiniest male lead since Luke Skywalker complained about those power converters at the Toschi Station) to open a nightclub with an retired musician (Gene Kelly). This 1980 musical had the nerve to be Olivia Newton-John's follow up to the monster success of Grease and its subsequent box office failure insured that it wouldn't be spoken of nicely. And it is an easy target, don't get me wrong: what with the rollerskating, the new wave hairdos, and the visual tourettes (more on that in a minute)...

Continue reading for more XANADU

14 comments:

Kamikaze Camel said...

Wow. I really need to see that again. Maybe with your commentary in mind I may enjoy it more than I did before (which wasn't much). I did love the "Xanadu" sequence and that bizarre scene where like some old school jazz band and disco group compete? I'm not entirely sure how it went but I remember something along those lines.

It really does sound like the sort of ridiculous thing I love. Definitely checking it out again.

Kamikaze Camel said...

Oh, one more thing.

I remember being horrified upon seeing Gene Kelly in this movie. Like, I had to skip straight to the credits just to make sure it was him. Scary.

J.D. Judge said...

Gene Kelly? I hope he dimensia, because that's they only thing that could explain that!

Flickhead said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick Davis said...

You forgot to mention that no one taught Olivia Newton-John how to stop in her roller skates. As I recall, several scenes cut right as she's about to collide with a wall, or with nothing—she's just bravely keeping her eyeline on the camera while she rolls into the Great Unknown. (If you hold your ear up to the TV, you can hear the dim voice of a PA whispering on the set, or at a casting meeting, "But can she skate?")

Xanadu is fun for all the reasons you state, but I'll always take Mariah, her immortal housecat, and "Don't Stop (Funkin' 4 Jamaica)" in Glitter instead. To each his own pop-diva insanity.

Paxton Hernandez said...

That was an hilarious review, Nathe. Keep up the good work!

You are forgetting when a girl falls in her skates and they didn't cut the scene! Hahahah! So funny...

Probably the director and producers were like "Black gal falling in her skates?, You got it!"

Hahahaha = D

Kamikaze Camel said...

Now Glitter was something I had immense fun with. It's a debacle, but a hilarious one. So incredibly inept.

Benjamin said...

Blessings on your house for this review. "Xanadu" is one of my favorite movies...I utterly loved it when I was a tyke and totally got that it was utterly clueless about itself. (I also love it for it's early-80s innocence.) I recently compared "Xanadu" to "300," a movie that tried so hard to erase every bit of potentially homo material they ended up with one of the most hilariously queer, and clueless, movies ever committed to celluloid.

Neil said...

Great post. I'm so glad you took this one on. Thanks!

Carl said...

Yep. Definitely a guilty pleasure from my mis-spent youth. And I am not even all that fond of musicals (but I am that fond of Olivia). So how have I managed to miss "Grease" all these years?

Woodstock said...

lol... the things you pointed were exactly the things i most liked about it, especially the songs. as i watched i realized i knew most of them and didn't know they were from a movie.

Joanne said...

I was there when Zanadu was released. I saw it at the movies a number of times. I loved it. I had the soundtrack. I still know every song by heart. I have never been ashamed to love this movie and when my daughters recently danced to Zanadu (yes some kids danced with roller skates) for a school musical homage to movie musicals, I re-lived Zanadu through their eyes and they loved it too! I actually don't remember it as a flop. Only through Internet bloggs such as this and others have I come to realise that those who appreciate it have to work hard to defend it.

So thank you once again Nat for your beautifully stated opinion on a movie I love but others just don't get. Cheers!!

Calliope said...

Um, note: Vince Welnick from the Grateful Dead is in this movie! Easy to spot, as he is playing keyboards. I think the orange jumpsuit band may even be his early group the Tubes. I love to rollerskate an think this movie does well by Terpsichore (the muse Kira embodies), Yay for the muses...and what a long, strange trip this whole movie is.

Less Lee Moore said...

I love this movie. I used to play dress up, trying so hard to look like Kira, and dance around listening to the soundtrack on my Walkman (hey, I was 11 at the time). I couldn't roller skate, though, which made the whole endeavor quite comical!

I would also like to mention the excellent performances of The Tubes in the movie and soundtrack.