Sunday, September 18, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: XANADU

My stepfather is a big man - a 6ft 4inch hunter. I have always been close to him, and we share a lot of the same interests. Surprisingly, we share our love of musicals as well - and it was my stepfather that introduced me to the musical Xanadau. I recently made my wife watch the movie with me, and although she said how cheesy it was, she ended up watching the whole movie with me. That sort of sums up what Xanadau is, it is a movie that most people hate but they can not stop watching.

Xanadu is a 1980 romantic musical fantasy film written by Marc Reid Rubel and directed by Robert Greenwald. The title is a reference to the poem "Kubla Khan, or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which is quoted in the film. Xanadu is the name of the Chinese province where Khan establishes his pleasure garden in the poem. Xanadu stars Olivia Newton-John, Michael Beck, and Gene Kelly, and features music by Newton-John, Electric Light Orchestra, Cliff Richard, and The Tubes. The film also features animation by Don Bluth.

Sonny Malone (Michael Beck) is a talented artist who dreams of fame beyond his job, which is the uncreative task of painting larger versions of album covers for record-store window advertisements. As the film opens, Sonny is broke and on the verge of giving up his dream. Having quit his day job to try to make a living as a freelance artist, but having failed to make any money at it, Sonny returns to his old job at AirFlo Records. After some humorous run-ins with his imperious boss and nemesis, Simpson (James Sloyan), he resumes painting record covers.

At work, Sonny is told to paint an album cover for a group called The Nine Sisters. The cover features a beautiful woman passing in front of an art deco auditorium (the Pan-Pacific Auditorium). This same woman collided with him earlier that day, kissed him, then roller-skated away, and Malone becomes obsessed with finding her. He finds her at the same (but now abandoned) auditorium. She identifies herself as Kira (Olivia Newton-John), but she will not tell him anything else about herself. Unbeknownst to Sonny, Kira is one of nine mysterious and beautiful women who literally sprang to life from a local mural in town near the beach.

Sonny befriends a has-been big band orchestra leader-turned-construction mogul named Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly); Danny lost his muse in the 1940s (who is seen in a flashback scene to bear a startling resemblance to Kira); Sonny has not yet found his muse. Kira encourages the two men to form a partnership and open a nightclub at the old auditorium from the album cover. She falls in love with Sonny, and this presents a problem because she is actually an Olympian Muse. ("Kira's" real name is Terpsichore, and she is the Muse of dancing and chorus.) The other eight women from the beginning of the film are her sisters and fellow goddesses, the Muses, and the mural is actually a portal of sorts and their point of entry to Earth.


The Muses visit Earth often to help inspire others to pursue their dreams and desires. But in Kira's case, she has violated the rules by which Muses are supposed to conduct themselves, as she was only supposed to inspire Sonny but has ended up falling in love with him as well. Her parents (presumably the Greek gods Zeus and Mnemosyne) recall her to the timeless realm of the gods. Sonny follows her through the mural and professes his love for her. A short debate between Sonny and Zeus occurs with Mnemosyne interceding on Kira and Sonny's behalf. Kira then enters the discussion, saying the emotions she has toward Sonny are new to her--if only they could have one more night together, Sonny's dream of success for the nightclub Xanadu could come true. But Zeus ultimately sends Sonny back to Earth. After Kira expresses her feelings for Sonny in the song "Suspended in Time," Zeus and Mnemosyne decide to let Kira go to him for a "moment, or maybe forever," which they cannot keep straight because mortal time confuses them, and the audience is left to wonder her fate.

In the finale, Kira and the Muses perform for a packed house at Xanadu's grand opening, and after Kira's final song, they return to the realm of the gods in spectacular fashion. With their departure, Sonny is, understandably, depressed. But that quickly changes when Danny has one of the waitresses bring Sonny a drink--the waitress is an exact look-alike of Kira. Sonny approaches this enigmatic doppelgänger and says he would just like to talk to her. The film ends with the two of them talking, in silhouette, as the credits begin to roll.


What is interesting to note is Gene Kelly's role as Danny McGuire was an update homage to his role in 1944's Cover Girl. The movie marked Kelly's last movie musical, and I think he was the standout in the film. The movie bombed at the box office, but the movie soundtrack was a commercial success. The film, now over thirty years old has become a cult classic, and it even inspired a 2007 Broadway musical and successful tour. Xanadu is definitely a guilty movie pleasure. However, I don't really feel guilty when I watch this film...


MY RATING: 7 OUT OF 10

14 comments:

  1. Lobosco,
    When I was gathering posters for a post before the Blogathon I saw Xanadu and immediately looked to see if there was an older version of the one I was familiar with featuring Newton-John. Needless to say I was a bit surprised with your choice but after your review I get it!

    As everyone knows and frequently tease me about, I'm just not a fan of musicals even though I love Moulin Rouge (2001) then previous to that Grease during my teens. Having seen Grease at least 30 times I went into Xanadu with high hopes, then there was Kelly.

    With that said, I thoroughly enjoyed your review and your thoughtfulness, fondness for the film. It's great that your stepfather likes the film as well. My mom used to call while I had Moulin Rouge blaring in the background but her response was always the same,"I can't believe you're watching that awful movie AGAIN!" Of course this is the same woman who's seen Purple Rain at least 20 times without guilt.

    Thanks for including the fun clips and for sharing your Guilty Pleasure with the rest of us. You, know after reading your take on the film the plot does sound a lot like a 1940's throwback. Something I failed to notice while watching Xanadu.
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  2. I adore Cover Girl, so it was nice to "revisit" Danny McGuire through Gene Kelly's performance. But I'll admit that, for me, Kelly was the only draw for this film. This is a kind of "car wreck" movie, in that if you're flipping channels and it pops up on the screen, you really can't look away!

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  3. Sir Lobosco, I very much enjoyed what you had to say about XANADU! When it came out in 1980 (my goodness, so many delightful Guilty Pleasures in 1980! Was it something in the water? :-)), I was in middle school, and my girlfriends and I loved it, especially the music! And who doesn't love Gene Kelly onscreen? (Michael Beck wasn't hard to look at, either. :-)) One of my favorites among the John Farrar/ELO numbers was the one they did with The Tubes, mixing punk/New Wave with big-band music. Thanks for the memories and the great blog post!

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  4. Too bad this film didn't get a better reception - it really isn't all that bad! I think it's a remake of Rita Hayworth's "Down to Earth" - which also wasn't great, but Rita looked amazing. So - a few degrees of separation for "Cover Girl" co-stars Kelly & Hayworth!

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  5. Good choice, Lobosco -- Xanadu is a GP of mine too. I saw it at the drive-in with my kids when it was first released. They loved it, and I stared like a deer in the headlights -- disco roller skating. Talk about a dated movie! It really was cheesy, but I liked it, to my shame! Your writeup is great, and brought back a lot of memories. Good post!

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  6. OMG! I was such a huge Olivia Newton-John fan. I watched her HBO special too many times to count. That said, this film is really bad. I don't have the same urge as you...if I see it on TV I immediately turn it. Maybe it was the roller skates or the inter-dimensions--I'm not sure. I just know that I try to block this film from my mind when I recollect OJN.

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  7. This isn't a picture I've ever gotten around to. It's nice to read about movie bonding between you and your stepdad. I may have to give it a look one of these days.

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  8. I've always thought the makers of this film were big-time Rita Hayworth fans, what with the Danny McGuire reference from "Cover Girl" and, as FlickChick points out, the film steals its main plot thread from Hayworth's "Down to Earth." Rita is absolutely gorgeous in "Down to Earth" but, oh that score

    I haven't seen it since it came out, but it might be worth a re-visit. Olivia sure was cute.

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  9. Would I believe I just saw XANADU for the first time last month on cable? I have never been a Michael Beck fan and think his performance deflates much of the movie. But Olivia and Gene are charming and the soundtrack is excellent. I think it spawned something like 4-5 Top 10 singles, to include Olivia's smash "Magic", her "Xanadu" duet with ELO, her "Suddenly" duet with Cliff Richard, and ELO's "All Over the World." Interestingly, both "All Over the World" and "Magic" are currently be used in TV commercials. Your affection for this movie shows through and that made your review one of my favorites so far.

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  10. I haven't seen XANADU, but the idea of the Muses inspiring a musical is a pretty good one (as FlickChick points out, the films sounds like a partial remake of "Down to Earth," in which Rita Hayworth also plays Terpsichore, who inspires a musical producer). I'm not an Olivia Newton-John fan, but certainly Gene Kelly would be a draw for me! Thanks for your informative post!

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  11. I wish I could be more effusive about this film but like it and Dorian's affection for Can't Stop the Music it hails from a period in pop culture that I'd just as soon forget. Kelly is definitely the standout here (because Newton-John can't act--not even in Grease--and as for Beck...meh) but the filmmakers seem to conveniently forget that linking him and Livvy romantically is a little on the creepy side. But don't let my dislike for the movie dismiss the fact that this is a great review, Lobosco -- after all, that's what "guilty pleasures" are all about!

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  12. I haven't seen this film ... although I think I bought the album when it was released. Good ol' vinyl. I need to check this one out, particularly after people pointed out the connection to Rita Hayworth!

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  13. I haven't seen "Xanadu," didn't know Gene Kelly was in it or that there was any relationship between it and "Down to Earth." Thanks for teaching me a thing or two. Nice work!

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  14. I'd heard of this film but never sought it out. I thought it was a random disco movie on roller skates, so it wasn't tops on my list to see.I had no idea about the ancient Greek mythology in it.

    From the plot, Xanadu seems like a near remake of ONE TOUCH OF VENUS (1948), with Ava Gardner as an ancient Roman immortal who's portal is the famed statue. She improves Robert Walker's life, contemplates staying, but ultimately Walker ends up with an earth-bound doppelganger.

    Now Xanadu has gone up several notches on my "To Watch" list.

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