Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Xanadu (1980)

What was I expecting? Rollerball the musical?? Kind of. This is one of the few musicals that deserves its status as a cult film. The plot is fairly insane. Michael Beck (The Warriors) plays Sonny "Michaelangelo" Malone a struggling artist working for Airflo Records under the tryannical watch of his boss, Simpson (The Ron Silver-like James Sloyan). By day, Sonny replicates album covers with his brush. By night, he dreams of being a respected artist.

One night, Sonny tears up a water color and flings the remnants out the window. They float across town and land in front of a mural, which features five beautiful woman. Of course, they come alive to the tune of the 80s hit "I'm Alive". In the mural is Kira (Olivia Newton John), who is to become Sonny's muse. After a meet cute, they fall in love. At the same time, Sonny has befriended a boardwalk musician named Danny (Gene Kelly). Danny turns out to be a millionaire who gave up his dream of music (he played early on with Glenn Miller) to live the "comfortable life" in Construction. Danny seems to recognize Kira. Is it possible she was his own muse a long time ago? Unfortunately, this picture doesn't have any room for creepy love triangles.

So, basically, the movie is about following your dreams. Sonny and Danny team up to ressurect an old run down roller-rink into a new club to be called Xanadu, which merges both the old world (big band era) with the new (rock & roll, synthesizers, spandex). It's a horrendous idea and one that could only be imagined in 1980.

Did I mention that Kira is also the daughter of Zeus? There's a terrific scene where, after breaking Sonny's heart by leaving, Sonny follows her into her realm. To do this he rollerskates at top speed into a brick wall (the one with the mural on it). Of course, he goes through the wall and into a mystical world with bright neon and smoke machines. Kira appears and is accompanied by the voice of Zeus, who forbids her to leave. Even Zeus' wife, Mnemosyne (wait, were they actually married?), intercedes on Kira's behalf. Still, Zeus is unshaken and sends Sonny back leaving Kira alone to sing "suspended in time". The song is convincing enough and Zeus agrees to return her to Sonny for either a "moment" or "forever" since they still haven't quite figured out this time thing yet.

The music, for me anyway, was a mixed bag. I recognized several hit songs from the era including the aforementioned "I'm alive", "suddenly", and "magic". Of course, there are the mediocre numbers like "Dancin" and "All Over the World" which is notable for reminding me of a similar moment from National Lampoon's European Vacation. My favorite was Newton John's duet with Gene Kelly called "whenever you're away from me". Gene Kelly, alone in his massive study starts to sing and, suddenly, a big bang (whoops. Freudian slip? I meant "band", I swear) appears with Newton John singing. So, of course, she was his muse all along. Kelly was wrong when he said "I'm gettin old babe. You wouldn't even know me now." The song is terrific, but watch too closely and you'll notice some faulty choreography. Actually, that's kind of an issue I had with the film (it's a minor one, to be sure. Do you think I really care about dancing??). They should have ditched the roller skates. Not only do they completely date the movie (as well as the songs, the hair, the clothes, Newton John, Michael Beck, Spandex, etc), but neither Olivia nor Beck are able to dazzle with their skating. The dance numbers on skates are, frankly, boring.

This is way more than I ever wanted to write about Xanadu. It's a pretty trippy movie, especially the final title song, which I can imagine was quite a hit back in the day. Olivia Newton John is incredibly adorable, sexy, beautiful. In fact, it's always been my dream to sleep with her. And yet, I don't see fucking Zeus sending Kira down to the Boston Commons on rollerskates to help me achieve that dream. Asshole.


elmo said...

Ha! I borrowed this from Steve when I first moved in. It was the proper ending to my brief, torrid ELO phase. Loved the animation sequence.

brian said...

Damn, I forgot to mention the animation by Don Bluth. It was a pretty fun sequence. Could have used a bit more of it.

brian said...

FYI...Hurley found a copy of 'Xanadu' on Lost tonight and popped it in. Fantastic.

steve said...

Oh come ON! The 'Dancin' number is easily the best in the show! The two different songs are INTENTIONALLY CONSTRUCTED so they can mesh seamlessly as one in the final stanza, just like the two different sets mesh physically! It's virtuoso!

Although then again, there's "I'm Alive" .... watching those Muses come alive and roller-blade away (although what a, say, historian would do with a roller-blading Clio is anybody's guess) - it's got to be one of the most mesmerizing opening sequences this side of "Much Ado about Nothing"

steve said...

Since the piece is so great, I'll overlook the HOWLING MORTAL SIN contained within it:

the words 'Gene Kelly' and 'faulty choreography' don't even belong in the same UNIVERSE, much less the same sentence.

brian said...

Steve, the "faulty choreography" had nothing to do with Gene Kelly. It was the fault of some of the extras, in particular, during Kelly's duet with Newton John.

brian said...

Also, how old was Gene Kelly when this came out? I'm not even sure he knew what movie he was in.

brian said...

Oh and regarding 'Dancin', refer back to my review when I mention that the merging of genres is a "horrendous idea". I stick by that.

brian said...

Roller skates? Muses? Gay 80's music? Fantasic. I need to see this movie.