conceived to capitalize on the roller disco craze, producers decided
to shift the focus of Xanadu (1980) when two similar projects
(Skatetown, U.S.A, and Roller Boogie; both from 1979)
made it to the theatres first. There would still be plenty of skating,
but the emphasis would now be on the musical/fantasy aspects of
pairing Olivia Newton-John, the beautiful young star of Grease
(1978), with the singing and dancing legend Gene Kelly, the studio
must've felt they had box-office gold on their hands. But combining
the glamour of 1940's Hollywood with the pop music of the 1980's
was like mixing oil and water; it just didn't work. This incompatible
union is what makes Xanadu so memorable and the reason it
has achieved minor cult status.
artist Sonny Malone (Michael Beck) is working at home, but he just
can't seem to find his creative groove. Sonny tosses the pieces
of his most recent attempt out the window. The scraps of paper float
away on the breeze eventually coming to rest in an alleyway where
a mural of the Greek Muses comes to neon-infused life. One of these
Olympian beauties is Australian pop songstress Olivia Newton-John
(ONJ). The girls pose and happily prance around to "I'm Alive,"
the first of several Jeff Lynne/ELO songs. After gyrating like solid
gold dancers, the girls speed away in colorful balls of light to
inspire the masses.
his failed attempt to make it on his own as an artist, Sonny returns
to the art department of Air Flow Records where he'll continue to
reproduce and enlarge the cover art of record albums for promotional
purposes. When he is given his next assignment he marvels at the
mysterious girl on the cover.
think that's this crazy girl I just ran into. I was walking through
the park, she nearly ran over me, then she kissed me." No one
seems to know who she is. It's as if she appeared in the cover photo
searching for his mysterious lady love at the beach, Sonny is drawn
to the melody of a clarinet being played by old-timer Danny McGuire
(Gene Kelly). Suddenly, skating down the boardwalk is Sonny's mystery
girl. He takes off in pursuit, his search eventually leading him
to the condemned Pan Pacific Auditorium.
inside, the unmistakable sounds of ONJ's hit "Magic" play
while ONJ herself skates in and out of the shadows, waving her arms
rhythmically in a pseudo-choreographed routine. All Sonny learns
from the enigmatic beauty is her name, Kira.
their common interest in music, Danny and Sonny become fast friends.
While showing Sonny around his mansion, Danny recounts the pertinent
moments in his life. How he used to play with Glenn Miller, once
owned his own nightclub, and lost his heart to a girl who bore a
striking resemblance to Kira.
reminiscing about the good old days Kelly dances with the ghosts
of his past. "Whenever You're Away From Me" is a nice
duet between Kelly and Newton-John. ONJ holds her own with Kelly,
while Kelly proves that he still has what it takes. It's great to
see 68 year-old Kelly doing what he does best, but whatever dignity
he has will soon vanish when he's called upon to perform later in
visits Beck at work while he puts the finishing touches on the album
reproduction that bears her likeness. "It must be frustrating
to waste your talents on things that don't really matter to you."
Like this movie Ms. Newton-John?
part of their first date Sonny takes Kira to a special recording
studio. The bare soundstage features various settings that are supposed
to inspire. It's all pretty silly as different themed props fly
in and out on wires while ONJ and Beck skate to the song "Suddenly."
They skate over a city rooftop, through a desert oasis, and (in
homage to Gene Kelly) a rainstorm.
the end of their memorable evening together Kira takes Sonny back
to the Pan Pacific Auditorium and suggests that it'd be the perfect
location for Danny's new nightclub.
think this place could be anything you want it to be."
the most happening roller disco ever?
next day Sonny shows the place to Danny. "Kid you don't need
a building, you need a demolition team." Once inside they consider
the possibilities. Their ideas are so vivid that they come to life.
"Dancin'" the new wave 80's literally collide with the
big band sound of the 1940's. In an outrageous battle of the bands
ONJ lends her three part harmony to an orchestra and swing dancers,
while The Tubes, clad in orange jumpsuits, play music with a more
contemporary sound (circa 1980 that is). Eventually the two opposing
musical styles merge into one big party.
convinced, Kelly shouts, "I love it! I'll do it!" and
with those simple words Danny and Sonny are now partners which,
Kelly helpfully explains is "
like being married, without
the good part." Kira (sans skates for once) suggests the name
celebrate their venture together Sonny takes Kira to the Hollywood
Bowl. When pressed about her family and her past, the inscrutable
Kira explains, "You know enough about me already; any more
and you'll get a headache."
our lovers kiss there are fireworks
literally. Xanimated sparkles
engulf them as the ELO power ballad "Don't Walk Away"
swells on the soundtrack. Inexplicably we are then treated to a
Don Bluth animation sequence where Sonny and Kira flirt and cavort
atop a rose, are transformed into fish, and then change into lovebirds.
is being made on the construction of Xanadu. While visiting the
building site Kelly mentions to ONJ that he'd like the first dance
at the grand opening.
incredulously asks, "You're gonna dance?"
been known to twinkle a toe or two."
he sets foot and the dance floor our misguided lovers suggest he
update his look. Something with pizzazz. So, they take him to a
franchise glitz dealer/clothing emporium where the customers and
punk employees look like colorful rejects from a Mad Max
movie. While dancing to "All Over the World" Kelly tries
on an embarrassing succession of "trendy" outfits accompanied
by more Xanimated sparkles and neon. By the end of the song Xanadu
is ready for business.
the eve of the opening Kira realizes her true feelings for Sonny.
She's fallen for his special brand of anti-charisma and decides
to tell him everything.
a Muse." she confesses.
glad somebody's having a good time."
manages to profess her love before being beamed back home.
despondent over her departure, Sonny goes roller skating down the
boardwalk while another ELO song, "The Fall," throbs away.
When he passes the mural seen earlier in the movie Sonny does the
he skates toward it as fast as he can. Lucky
for him that the painting is apparently a gateway to heaven. Sonny
is transported to Olympus, which looks like a neon hued video game.
has a chat with Kira's dad (Zeus/God) and she asks for just one
more night of mortality. She is refused and Sonny is transported
Star Trek-style back to earth.
a cover girl breeze gently blowing her Breck girl hairstyle, ONJ
pours her heart into the ballad "Suspended in Time." God
apparently loves her singing so much that he changes his mind and
sends her back to earth.
gala opening of Xanadu serves as the movies climax (boy is it a
doozy) As crazy as some of the musical number have been up to this
point, they pale in comparison to the outrageous eleven minute musical
madness begins with Gene Kelly roller skating (yes roller skating)
out from beneath a flashing neon Xanadu sign. Jugglers hurtle pins
at him as he encourages club-goers to skate with him to the percussive
marching band intro. Disco ninjas show off their moves (on skates
of course) while cocktail servers get their groove on. Darcel Wynne
(of "Solid Gold" fame) stage dives while the roller skating
chorus executes some choreographed moves, clap rhythmically, and
chant "XANADU!" over and over. Gene Kelly is having such
a great time that the screen splits into three images as Kelly skates
Newton-John makes her appearance and sings the title track "Xanadu"
surrounded by dancers sporting a decidedly 80's wardrobe, the boys
wear velour jackets and the girls wear satin blouses with linebacker
shoulder pads. Break dancers in zoot suits show off their pop n'
lock moves while a dancing couple twirl on top of a giant waffle
in the clowns! ONJ next sings beneath a pair of tightrope walking
mimes and a group of chorus boys lay on the ground so a speed skater
can jump over them Evil Knievel style. Dancers continue to twirl
on the center dais/fountain while a trapeze artist spins overhead.
music comes to an end but ONJ keeps on going, beginning an entirely
different number! Not just one, but three completely different and
unrelated songs! First she is joined by her Muse sisters on the
rotating multi-colored dance floor and performs a tap routine that
is both retro and futuristic at the same time.
she morphs into a rock and roll slut. Really, what Olivia Newton-John
musical finale would be complete without good girl Olivia transforming
into a bad girl vixen? The reason Michael Beck doesn't do much dancing
in the movie is made evident in this segment. His white boy shoulder
shaking is, well
is a little bit country too. She is next at the center of a Xanadu
ho-down. With the lengthy fringe on her white leather cowgirl jacket
who needs a lasso?
disco beat returns and ONJ begins her "Xanadu" reprise
in an other-worldly lamé robe and beaded wig. Standing center
stage on an illuminated riser Olivia and her sisters transform back
into their chic peasant dresses as the music builds to a crescendo.
As she hits the impossibly high final note "Xanaduuu
ONJ is lifted back into the heavens amid sparkles and neon.
is alone again and Danny tries to console him by pointing out a
very pretty cocktail waitress, one who (surprise) resembles Kira.
Perhaps this time she can inspire him to do something other than
open a roller disco night club. Or at least help him pick better
movies in the future.
DVD is pretty standard. Hardcore Xana-fanatics will want
to checkout the trailer which, like the movie itself, attempts to
mix two separate eras in movie advertising. It features lots of
adjectives like, magical, dazzling and spectacular. Unfortunately,
the box-office receipts were less than magical or dazzling and the
movie became a spectacular flop. The soundtrack, on the other hand,
did quite well.
Travolta was rumored to be first pick for Olivia Newton-John's love
interest, a perfectly logical choice following the success of Grease.
But Travolta was either busy or wisely said "No". The
big question is, how in God's name did they make the leap from Travolta
to Michael Beck? The world may never know.
production, ONJ fell for Xana-rific chorus boy Matt Lattanzi. They
married in 1984, had a child, and were divorced in 1995.
trivia footnote: John Wilson, the mad genius behind The Golden Raspberry
Awards, dreamed up the "Razzies" while sitting through
a double bill of Xanadu and Can't Stop the Music (1980).