by William S. Repsher (LeisureSuit.net)
Last week I took a nostalgia trip and rented Xanadu, one of the only films with an X in the title you can rent at
Blockbuster. As a kid, I loved this album, and, I suppose, had good feelings toward the film. Watching it
again, I was dumbstruck at just how transcendentally bad this movie is. I wanted to write about it, but was
simply unable to conjure the words. I then asked our resident seventiesologist William S. Repsher to take a
crack at it.
Why review a 19 year old movie? Two reasons: there are no new important films opening this week, and,
most importantly, I partially run this God damned magazine, one of the few things in my life I do run, so I don't
have to give you a fucking reason! -- Jordan Hoffman, Senior Editor
It can be argued that the 50's didn't truly end until JFK was assassinated in the fall of 1963. And if you want
an excellent document of the 60's crashing down a few months after Woodstock, see Gimme Shelter and
witness the Hells Angels beating ass all day on peaceful, stoned hippies with sawed-off pool cues, and
eventually stabbing a young black man to death.
Released in 1980, Xanadu was Altamont for the 70's. It signaled the end in a fairly ugly, fast fashion. It took
elements of the late 70's (disco, rollerskating, ELO, awful special effects, Olivia Newton-John pushing her
luck after Grease) and presented them in a way that left many theater-goers, this writer included, muttering,
"Someone please beat me to death with a pet rock."
A bad movie? It was awful. But not as bad as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Roller Boogie, Foxes,
Can't Stop the Music and The Pirate Movie. It's on the same mediocre level as FM, Times Square,
Rock'n'Roll High School, Thank God It's Friday and Get Crazy. And it comes nowhere near the warped
brilliance of Phantom of the Paradise, Over the Edge, Death Race 2000, Eraserhead and The Stunt Man.
Olivia Newton-John was much easier to watch than Neil Diamond in The Jazz Singer. But not as fun to watch
as either Brooke Shields in The Blue Lagoon or Phoebe Cates in the Blue Lagoon rip-off, Paradise. (If you
know all of these movies, seek help. And then come on over, and we'll watch my VHS copies of them.) While
the 70's were a great time for movies (nothing like seeing Jaws at the age of 12 and then refusing to swim in
the ocean on a family vacation two weeks later), those who didn't live through those times missed out on the
forgettable dross, and those who weren't teenagers in the late 70's didn't bear the full brunt.
Xanadu killed a few careers. While it didn't kill the late Gene Kelly, his presence in the movie leads one to
believe that his agent might have been outfitted with cement rollerskates and dropped in the Pacific after
this. Michael Beck, who had such a promising start as the antiheroic gang leader in The Warriors, tanked it
on this one. If he's had any major roles since then, I'm unaware of it. Every other character, aside from Olivia
Newton-John, was never seen again.
The Electric Light Orchestra, who provided half of the soundtrack, lost credibility with its rock audience,
thanks to their newly-acquired disco overtones. Their next album, "Discovery", although featuring the hit
"Don't Bring Me Down", leaned even more in this direction and sounded exactly like what it was: Jeff Lynne
running out of ideas. (Sidenote: the soundtrack to Xanadu was recently re-released, after being unavailable
for years, and it offers a perversely enjoyable glimpse of Lynne's inability to decide if he wanted to be Paul
McCartney or Barry Gibb.)
The plot to Xanadu? I still don't know what it is. I gather that it's about Kira (Newton-John), a rollerskating
goddess who magically comes to life from a Venice, California wall mural (!!) choosing to kiss Sonny Malone
(Beck), a disgruntled album cover artist, in her first "live" moments rollerskating on the trails near the beach.
They spend the rest of the movie trying to figure out some way for Kira to become human and stay with
Sonny. Malone meets clarinet-playing retiree Danny McGuire (Kelly) on the beach and strikes up a fast
friendship in which McGuire encourages Malone to follow his dreams and become a true artist. They decide
to revive a decrepit L.A. dance hall, as Danny seems to be a millionaire living in a mansion, and call this new
nightclub of dreams, yes, Xanadu. What that has to do with Malone becoming a true artist, I don't know.
Oh, Christ. Stop. Stop. I can't go any further with that shamble of a story line--what an awful movie. The
whole thing was an excuse to have Gene Kelly dance around for the last time and pump out a few hits for
Olivia Newton-John. ("Magic" was a massive hit in the summer of 1980, and I do have fond memories of it
echoing over those Jersey shore beaches.) Movies like this never had good nudity or sex scenes, even
though it was the "swinging 70's," and I'd have paid twice the price to see Olivia Newton-John naked.
But no such pleasurable respites exist in this arid wasteland of creativity. Xanadu is the perfect antidote for
70's revisionists who gaze back longingly on those days they never lived quite so romantically, or never lived
in the first place. The 70's weren't as bad as its naysayers claim. I have a lot of movies like Xanadu on video
for their feel: a sort of berserk, sunny innocence that no longer exists and didn't really exist back then, save
in movies, hit songs and television variety shows. Make no mistake: Xanadu is bad, bad, bad. But bad in a
way that no longer seems possible, in a way that is specifically of the 70's, and this may be why it sometimes
haunts me like an insidiously annoying Top 40 song.