Xanadu (1980)

A million lights are dancing and there you are…  A shooting turd out of Hollywood’s hairy ass.

In 1980, rollerskating and Grease fucked each other, and, thanks to cocaine causing neither to use appropriate protection and the VD captured from the slutty muses Grease would fuck on the side, the resulting monster child that came about was Xanadu.

While this movie is an abomination that needed to be aborted before it was birthed, it creates a bit of a conflict with me.  You see… *sigh* I don’t want to admit too much here… I have a real soft spot for this movie.  Maybe even to the point that I kinda like this movie a lot.

Fuck! I revealed too much.  But still…

Why wouldn’t I like it?  I freakin’ love the music of Electric Light Orchestra who provided half the soundtrack.  Olivia Newton-John was unbelievably hot in this movie and her songs in the movie were really, really good. Lastly, who could hate a super charming Gene Kelly just killing it in every scene he’s in?

So what’s Amazon got to say about the plot of Xanadu?  “Step into a magical world with superstars Olivia Newton-John (Grease) and Gene Kelly (Singin’ in the Rain) as they take you through one of the most extraordinary musicals in the beloved film, Xanadu! A beautiful muse is sent from up above to inspire a struggling artist and help motivate him to open a roller-disco. The dazzling soundtrack includes the hit songs ‘Magic’, ‘I’m Alive’, ‘All Over the World’, ‘Suddenly’ and the title song ‘Xanadu’. Throw on your roller-skates, turn up the volume and enjoy this sparkling out-of-this world fantasy!”

Before I get started with the actual movie, I’d be nervous to say that this movie is a “beloved film”.  It certainly is one of the most extraordinary musicals and out-of-this-world, but this is kind of beloved like how bad movies like Plan 9 from Outer Space are beloved.  So… Yeah.  Let’s get a move on with this flick!

The movie starts with variations on the classic Universal Pictures logo as if to tell us this is going to be one of those fun, old school romps.  However, when the cartoonish light show spins around before flashing up the title XANADU in great big letters, you get a real sense that this movie is not going to be all that fun after all.  That’s mainly because we have to meet our “hero”, Sonny Malone, who is a frustrated artist who can’t seem to cut his own path in the world of art.  Instead, he’s relegated to a life of painting album covers on record store windows.

But after saying that a guy like him shouldn’t dream anyway and he throws a torn up drawing away, it floats to a mural of some muses, and ELO starts rocking your fucking balls off with the song “I’m Alive” while the muses start coming to life.  The sooner you realize this movie is goofy as shit, the sooner you can enjoy this business on the screen.  At least you can see several muses dancing happily while Jeff Lynne sings to you.  I’m down for that.

The muses all head off and our main gal, Kira (Newton-John), skates by Sonny and plants a kiss right on his lips and just skates off in a glowing streak of yellow.  You know, like everyday normal boy-meets-girl stuff.  Without thinking anymore about it, he goes to work.  It is explained that he is returning after quitting to try to break into art but was accepted back by his jerk ass boss.  He gets some shit from his co-workers about coming back (like they are so high and mighty since they work in the same place he does and only side characters in Xanadu).

The album cover that launched a thousand Sonnys.

Anyway, he’s given an album cover to paint that, lo and behold, has Kira on the cover.  He decides to immediately take off to try to find her since she kissed him earlier.  He asks the photographer about her and learns she appeared in only one of a hundred snapshots of the front of the building she’s skating in front of.  At the beach, Sonny briefly meets an old guy playing clarinet on a rock named Danny McGuire.  As they talk, Kira skates by and Sonny chases after her until he falls off a dock when he’s distracted by her.

Later, Sonny finds the place from the album cover – a rundown old auditorium.  Despite the warnings of no trespassing, he is able to find a way into the building.  He hears music inside.  And just when you think this movie is not at all the musical it claims to be, we’re treated to Olivia Newton-John’s “Magic” while she skates around to it.  Sonny and Kira talk about how he’s been looking for her and she plays coy with him while kind of flirting with him.

Now, two things happen here.  First, she keeps disappearing in front of his goddamn eyes and he doesn’t seem all that worried about it.  Not to mention, she knows his name before they were truly introduced which would be kind of strange if she wasn’t a hot girl.

And second…  You start to get a gut feeling that whenever music is playing in this movie, you start to feel a pull to this movie.

At work, Sonny’s dickhead boss keeps hassling him, and you start to realize a third thing about this movie.  Whenever characters are interacting and there is no music (or Gene Kelly), this movie is pretty lame and your attention starts to wane pretty heavily.  Thankfully, Gene Kelly comes along and he and Sonny start up a friendship over Glenn Miller.  We learn that Danny was a big time clarinetist and we learn that Danny fell in love with a singer in his band who ultimately disappeared from his life and his dreams died.  Guess who the girl was?  So, Danny ultimately decides it might be fun to open a new club and Sonny gets roped into the plans.

Danny thinks back to the times he had with the Kira lookalike in the 40s.  In a vision, he sees her singing a song with him from the old days (“Whenever You’re Away from Me” sung by both Newton-John and Kelly) and they share a dance number together.

Remember what I said about feeling a pull to this movie when music is playing?  Well, between the music and Gene Kelly, this movie starts to charm you to the point of no return and you realize that just about every other scene (about the frequency of the musical scenes) is about as charming as anything you’ve ever seen.  Sadly, the other scenes star a guy who should have a whole bunch of charisma to match Newton-John and Kelly, but doesn’t, and fall completely flat.

So Kira and Sonny kind of go on a date after she finds him at the studio where he paints.  Thankfully, we don’t have to deal with much of this bullshit about going into a recording studio where a bunch of crazy shit happens to “inspire” the bands that record there before Newton-John’s “Suddenly” plays and you’re transported away from this garbage scene.  You also start to kinda like Sonny, but that’s likely only because you fucking love the song playing.  When the song ends, he turns back into a turd again.

Kira convinces Sonny to use the auditorium for the site of the new club that he and Danny are going to open.  When Danny comes to check out the auditorium, he’s not too sure at first, but then he starts to like because the movie is half over and he needs to like it because we don’t have enough time for him to think too hard about it.  Danny starts to imagine a bandstand like the era of the big bands, but Sonny pictures a rock and roll band.  This begins a battle of the bands sort of scene with The Tubes (performing the song “Dancin'”) and the big band.  While the song itself isn’t so bad, this scene is the one time the musical part falls a little flat only because it’s so weird and only shows you how much Sonny Malone should be kicked out of this movie and replace him with Danny McGuire for everything because I love all the shit Danny wants to do and all of Sonny’s shit is garbage.

Also, Olivia Newton-John is nowhere to be found and she’s really holding this movie together for me.

Danny and Sonny officially become partners.  Danny tries to figure out a name for the place and Kira appears and suggests “Xanadu” based on the old “Kubla Khan” poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/A stately pleasure-dome decree”).  Sonny quits his job.  He celebrates with Kira.  As he’s kissing her, she asks him to stop and she starts speaking in riddles.  Soon, Sonny gets that all too familiar feeling I have when I talk to girls – that feeling that things aren’t what they seem, and it’s not going to end well.

Suddenly, they turn into cartoons so they don’t have to film a sex scene while ELO’s sad “Don’t Walk Away” plays.  I kid you not, they turn into cartoon people and fish and birds and it’s so fucking weird.  But at least we don’t have to see Kira getting popped by this asshole.  Though I will say, even for the weirdness, the song combined with the Don Bluth animation is killer.  It’s just so crazy that an animated scene is the surrogate for a hot fuck session.

The following day, Kira and Sonny take Danny for a shopping spree so he can look fancy on opening night of Xanadu.  This is a kind of bad scene too, but it has two things going for it: 1. ELO’s “All Over the World” and Gene Kelly just dancing and being classy as fuck.  You kinda feel bad this was the last movie he was in because of all the weird drug-induced shit in this movie.  At least he did what he could with it.

The night before the opening of Xanadu, Sonny and Kira declare their love for each other.  She then has to tell him that she is a muse and was only there to make Xanadu happen.  Sonny isn’t buying it, but Kira starts showing off her powers by changing the definition of muse in the dictionary and showing up on TV in a movie.  She tells him that she fell in love with him regardless of the fact that she wasn’t supposed to.  And after all we’ve seen in the movie about their romance, why should we not believe her?  Kira tells Sonny she will love him forever and disappears.

“I regret nothing!”

The next morning, Sonny tells Danny he doesn’t care about Xanadu anymore since Kira left.  Danny tries to convince Sonny that her leaving didn’t make the dreams die because it’s people who kill them (some deep shit there).  He gives Sonny a pep talk to convince him to try to find Kira.  We know he’s going to find a way to her simply because ELO’s “The Fall” plays and I know that ELO’s music can make anyone do anything they set their minds to.  Sonny finds the mural the muses came out of and he roller skates right into the motherfucker and it transport him to Mt. Olympus.

However, I kind have to wonder what the plan was if that didn’t work – aside from needing a doctor to pull his dick out of his intestines from the impact against the wall.

Olympus is essentially the computer world from Tron.  Sonny tries to play badass by talking to Zeus and telling him he’s going to take Kira with him.  Zeus says no, but then Sonny tells him that they love each other and Zeus still doesn’t have any of it until Hera comes along and just makes the whole goddamn scene even worse than it already was.  Kira begs for one more moment with Sonny and Zeus still doesn’t go for it and sends Sonny away.  Sadly, Kira is left alone to sing “Suspended in Time”.  (Have I mentioned that every time a song plays, everything about the movie gets better?  Well, it fucking does.)  Hera and Zeus, moved by that awesome performance agree that maybe Kira does deserve one more moment on earth.

And now…  The big finale.  The moment our entire movie has been leading to…  The opening of Xanadu and the performance of the only song on the soundtrack to not make its appearance – the theme song.  There’s a lovely mix of 80s and 40s going on in the club as people are dancing and having a great time with line dancing and clapping and stomping and chanting “Xanadu” and everything feels as though it is building and building toward… Something?  Either way, you just know something great is about to happen.  There’s some pretty fucking awesome skating going on until finally Kira makes her return to start singing the song we all paid to hear.

In this final performance, there’s all sorts of crazy shit happening like spinning girls suspended by their heads, and tightrope walkers, and all sorts of dancing and skating.  We also get some other dance performances from Kira and her muse sisters in all sorts of crazy outfit changes.  We’re even treated to a bit of a melody between the song and its reprise.  All the while, Olivia Newton-John is looking about as goddamn hot as you’ve ever seen anyone look.

Seriously, find a woman that looks this good.  You won’t because you can’t.

She wraps up her performance and blows a kiss to Sonny and her and her sisters take off for Olympus to never return.  Danny calls Sonny over asking him if he’s alright.  Danny calls a waitress over to bring Sonny a drink and it turns out she looks just like Kira.  Our magical little story ends with Sonny talking up the Kira lookalike.

I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about Xanadu.  This movie is not good.  However, I cannot ever deny a fucking great soundtrack that lifts this movie above the water line in the bottom of a shit-filled toilet bowl. It’s Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly’s charm that keeps this movie from sinking again.  And while Michael Beck’s Sonny Malone is a real lame duck in this movie, he’s not a bad actor.  He has credits to his name that he was good in, but he definitely had a punchable face in this movie – but that’s probably because you can’t help but fall in love with Kira too.

How could this movie be better?  Well, I guess a more appealing set of scenes in between the musical bits would help.  Originally, Universal wanted John Travolta in the Sonny Malone part, and that certainly would have helped too.  I guess he didn’t want to star in yet another movie with Olivia Newton-John so soon after Grease.

That brings up another thing.  Olivia Newton-John is famous for a few things – her music career (of which I will never call into doubt because she was an amazing singer and performer), Grease, and Xanadu.  I think it’s fairly clear that despite my outward appearance of not wanting to own up to my feelings about this movie, I fucking love Xanadu.  But now is time for me to say something I’ve said for decades…  I’ve seen Grease more times than anyone ever should due to reasons I don’t have time to go into on this blog.  No matter how much Travolta and Newton-John kill it in Grease, I can’t stand it anymore.

Plus… ELO, man.  EL-fuckin’-O.  Therefore, Xanadu wins.  Every time.

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