There’s on old proven Hollywood axiom that states if a film opens without that all important screening for the critics and the media, it
is assumed that the studio knows the film is terrible and suddenly becomes desperate to “unload” the film past critical scrutiny (be it
from the critics to the equally important word-of-mouth circles). That way, the studio can at least earn some money off the film before
the naysayers have a chance to take some shots at it.
A lot also depends on just how “bad” the film really is. A film might not be worth much to the eye of elitist and/or overly opinionated
critics may very well strike a cord with the public in general. Contemporary film history is replete with such examples; films that appeal
to the “cult” audiences like Wizard Of Oz, Phantom of The Paradise, Rocky Horror Picture Show, the latter two films gained a reputation
in the ‘underground’, making it’s mark first as a cult phenomenon before reentering the mainstream only to make a bigger mark.
However, the promises that Xanadu originally boasted were never delivered in the eyes of the many. The disharmony that was
prevalent behind the film was, in many ways, apparent in the final result. The critical response was pretty much universal, like the
movie critic from the London (UK) Evening News panning the film as “the most dreadful, tasteless, movie of the decade. Indeed, of all
time.” and you didn’t have to go far beyond the title to understand Newsweek’s opinion: ‘Aw, Shut Up, Muse!’ One of the more interesting
write-ups was one critic’s observation that it was useless to offer any energy to criticize Xanadu as “it would be noting more than
shooting arrows at a ghost; this film is so transparent’. Then Esquire Magazine uttered the simple one-word phrase that would dog the
movie forever, ‘Xana-Don’t’.
Some of these bad reviews caught up to Olivia during her Xanadu press junket through Australia. When these “pannings” were
mentioned on the Dan Parkinson talk show, she remarked: “I actually stopped reading them, which seems to be the safest way. But
luckily, we made the film (for) the public, and not for the critics, other wise we’d be in trouble.” She also mentioned that getting good
reviews were a kiss of death.
When the host read some more brief excerpts from the reviews (“crushingly disastrous and a nightmare”) she answered back that
Xanadu was “a entertainment film, it was made for people to just go and enjoy themselves and have fun. It’s not Ben Hur.”
While Roger Ebert expanded on the “transparency” issue, saying that
the film had so little energy it could end at any minute, he (and generally
other critics who weren’t too terribly offended) did admit that he liked the
music (especially Magic), the presences of Kelly and Olivia, though one
critic from L.A. Magazine described her acting having a range of a
mannequin and another calling her character a “roller-skating light bulb”,
and it wasn’t as bad as Can’t Stop The Music.
In the end, the final outcome was that the audience largely sided with
the critics; they loved the music but not so much the movie. The
soundtrack would peek at #4 on the Billboard US album charts and will
go platinum and, in 1984, double platinum. The LP will end up selling a
total of 3 million copies in the US alone.
Aside from the negative response, there were other factors conspiring
against Xanadu, production not-withstanding. First, the film was saddled
by the press with the ‘disco film’ label. Xanadu’s release date eventually
coincided with the decline of disco as both a musical genre and a cultural
phenomenon; at this point in time, the public finally had enough of the
over-powering presents of Disco Inc (the mainstream version of it that is).
Even though Xanadu didn’t have any of the over-baring disco traces, all
those roller skates and flashy outfits didn’t help matters much. Another
factor was that Xanadu was to have opened in 900 theatres, but instead it
turned out to be only 260. Gordon would later remark, “Had it opened the
way it was supposed to…it was to have been quite successful because
the music was carrying us along.” Lastly, it also had stiff competition for
the public’s attention and money with the lingering yet strong effect of the
much-anticipated Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, which
opened on May 1980.
According to Variety, Xanadu would end up grossing ten million dollars
in the US market (starting with a $1.4 million opening weekend); the film
got a better B. O. response overseas. With the production budget believed
to be between 9 to 13 million dollars (plus a few more for advertising and
publicity), Universal would end up breaking even on Xanadu. (#7)
In late October, another long-planned single was released. It was another Olivia duet, with Cliff Richard this time and it was called
Suddenly. It managed to make it to #20 in the US singles charts. Despite the fact that Xanadu was quickly fading away from the
theaters and charts, Suddenly also got the royal packaging treatment with a non-LP side of Olivia covering You Made Me Love You
(which was played as BGM during Danny’s ‘memorabilia room’ scene). Other tracks were chosen as the fifth and final Xanadu single
in other parts of the world; Olivia’s Suspended In Time for Japan and ELO’s Don’t Walk Away for the UK and Europe.
By early 1981, Xanadu had already won some awards, but not the type you’d want to hang over the fireplace....maybe IN it. In an
answer to the Oscars, The Golden Raspberry Foundation soon started to hold ceremonies handing out awards for the WORST films
of the previous year (now known as ‘The Razzies’) and, in that year, they gave Xanadu nominations for worst actor (Beck), screenplay,
song (Suspended In Time), director and picture. Only Mr. Greenwald would walk away with a Razzie.
Jeff Lynne didn’t have to endure such humiliation that most other
Xanadu survivors had in this arena. The British Academy of
Songwriters, Composers, And Authors awarded Lynne the Novello
Award for Best Film Theme Song for Xanadu. This would he his
second such award as he won in 1979 for Best Outstanding
Contribution to British Music.
Also in the same year, Xanadu entered into the then-new frontier of
cable TV, home VCR/VHS tapes and laser discs (or as MCA called
them ‘DiscoVision’). The VHS tapes were available for purchase for
$89 and availability was near impossible until it was finally re-issued in
bigger quantities at the price of $15 in 1994. The DiscoVision version is
said to have been trimmed the film by two minutes due to the use of an
incorrect print. This small technicality started a small rumor (largely
fueled by Leonard Maltin’s review books) that the video version had a
missing scene or two but the reality was that the Universal logo and
the old blue ‘Made In Hollywood’ and ‘Visit Universal Studios’ bumpers
at the end was trimmed and nothing else. (#8)
Xanadu would have one more gasp left in this same year. An album
was released called Swing (Planet/P-24) and it was a collection of
standard big band/swing songs and a few originals thrown in. To
quote from it’s liner notes: “Modern recording technology enabled us to
produce a special sound and character that was literally impossible in
the big band days. The total sound of (instruments included) the
shimmering effects produced by the synthesizer (sometimes voiced
with the sax section)-all played an exciting part in creating the new
definition of ‘SWING’”. Without a doubt, this project had largely (and
even more successfully) borrowed the musical formula from Dancin’.
According to the LP credits, this was “conceived” by the producer
Richard Perry and Joel Silver, the latter being, of course, Xanadu’s co-
The Pan Pacific Auditorium had been left empty and dormant since
the film wrapped up. During the 80’s, seemingly endless plans were
drawn up for the Pan Pacific done up as a large shopping mall/hotel
complex and a major film center that would showcase preserved and
independent titles with production offices and facilities. These and
similar plans were either falling through or being suspended in limbo
thanks to an indecisive and perpetually-bickering Board Of Supervisors
of the County Of Los Angeles.
All these plans were for naught; in 1988, a fire engulfed the entire
building except the historical facade and yet, despite complaints, the
limbo continued. On May 30, 1989, a second fire took care of the rest.
The local fire department made an aggressive effort to save the front
but the winds and the intensity of the fire was too much for them to
handle. Within the hour, large parts of the remaining front began to
crash down to the ground, followed by the rest of the facade.
A few weeks later, the rubble was cleared away. All that remained
were the lighting poles that stood 20 feet from the facade and a chain
link fence marking the building’s former boundaries. No more than a
couple of years later, Pan Pacific Park was made almost over the
As for the human survivors, most notably Olivia, Gene and Jeff, each had their own take on the Xanadu debacle.
In his autobiography, Gene genteelly complained about the production. “I have to admit, it is a terrible movie”, he writes, “The film
coasts too much simply because they didn’t know how to proceed along the economic lines. It could have been made in a third of the
cost. But I must say it was fun working with Olivia, for that reason alone, I don’t regret the experience....and it’s the last time you’ll se
me dancing in a movie. So in that respect, I guess Xanadu occupies a special place in my career. But only in that respect I hasten to
Jeff Lynne was a little more abrasive with his choice of words compared to Mr. Kelly’s eloquent criticism. At first, he humorously
danced around the Xanadu question, but it was moments like a 1983 interview on the radio show Rockline that might have
dampened that plan; it was within the last minute of the show when host Bob Colburn quickly and bluntly asked Lynne the following:
“For years, you where an FM band that was respected, it seemed to be washed down the drain after the movie Xanadu…..what are
your feelings about being basically blacklisted?” Even ELO drummer Bev Bevan had to take a few hits from the film when he did
interviews for the band’s 1981 Time album: “Well, I don’t think it did a great deal of good,” he answered in one radio interview, “and it
certainly took a big deal of time which could have been spent probably better, which is why…we’re anxious for this album (Time) to be
so totally different.”
Finally, during a 1986 interview with Tower Records’ Pulse! magazine for the then-new ELO LP, Balance Of Power, he became
defensive when ‘it’ came up again. “Ever since we did Xanadu”, he insisted, “we’ve been branded wimps. They have been against us
without once realizing that it was a one-shot Top-40 thing. They though we never be ourselves again.” Indeed, they weren’t; soon after
Power, Lynne disbanded the group.
His resentment would still remain. In 1990, Lynne agreed to serve as an adviser for the first ELO box set, Afterglow, only on the
condition that none of the Xanadu tracks are used. This attitude might possibly explain why the whole soundtrack was not reissued
on CD for many years. Japan was the first country to release Xanadu on CD in 1991 with eloquent packaging and separate liner
notes, followed a year later by Australia with a lesser quality in packaging and sound. It would be until 1998 for the UK and Europe
and 1996 for the US to see their digital copy.
Olivia would later summarize the film as a “character building
experience” and added that she would have been upset if the music had
failed. “I thought that the musical numbers were great, but the dialogue
left something to be desired”, she commented to the Associated Press in
1982. “I knew that while we were shooting, but there wasn’t much I could
do. Then they changed the whole story midway through the production
and that didn’t help. I understand that the backers got their money back.”
She would receive a much bigger “benefit” from Xanadu as she dated
and, a few years later, end up marrying the actor who played the ‘Young
Danny McGuire’ role, Matt Lattanzi.
A book entitled The Hollywood Hall Of Shame (written by the same
team behind the original classic bad flick book, The Golden Turkey
Awards) devoted a few pages to Xanadu. The L.A. Times decided to ask
the targeted movie’s producers to respond to the book. “It didn’t cost $20
million dollars, that’s not accurate.” denounced Lawrence Gordon.
“Xanadu had a giant album, it went platinum, big foreign grosses. There’
s a lot more to a movie’s grosses than it’s US (and Canadian) rentals. I’
ll never seen a penny, but by the time the picture is sold to cable and
other ancillary markets, it’s not much of a disaster for the studio. Let’s
put it this way: Xanadu will make a hell of a lot more money then their
book.” One of those ancillary outlets was the first and only major network
television broadcast of Xanadu on the CBS television network on May 26,