XANADU: A Bad Movie I’ve Watched Many, Many, MANY Times

Bad Movies


Let’s make something clear from the outset: Gene Kelly was a national treasure.  I’m not a big “old movie” watcher, but damn if Singing in the Rain doesn’t hold up to the test of time.  And a lot of that has to do with Mr. Gene Kelly.

Which makes his presence in Xanadu—which ended up being his final movie—somewhat mystifying.  But the man adds a touch of class to a movie that would otherwise be a glorious clusterfuck of holy whatness.

b05-29b I mean, the plot of Xanadu is this: an artist (Sonny, played by Michael Beck) is tired of working for the man, and his muse shows up and teams him up with Gene Kelly, and they open a roller disco together.   THAT’S IT.

The more I think about it, the more confused I am by this.  Specifically the Point A that Sonny starts at, and how reaching Point B is possibly considered a win.  I mean, I get that he’s a struggling artist who just wants to do his art on not answer to the man… that makes sense, in an immature kind of way.  Yeah, he’s having a petty hissy fit about purity of art, but some artists do that.  He wants to paint and draw what he wants!  Fine.

But what in the name of the nine muses does that have to do with running a roller-disco club?

And, hey, lets get into that whole nine muses thing, since that’s a key element of the story.  Olivia Newton-John plays a literal daughter-of-Zeus muse.  Named Kira.  Now, I know my muses: Clio, Thalia, Erato, Euterpe, Polyhymnia, Calliope, Terpsichore, Urania, Melpomene.  No Kira.  Now, some claim that Kira is really Terpsichore, but I say that’s retconning bullshit.  Because this movie gives no sign that the maker had any idea that the muses had specific names or roles.  They’re just nine hot ladies in flowing dresses, and eight of them don’t do squat.

Plus when Sonny confronts Zeus, Zeus calls her “Kira”.  So don’t try to sell me that “she’s really Terpsichore” crap.

But who cares about all that?  This movie is about crazy, crazy musical numbers with Olivia Newton-John and ELO.  Shopping for clothes?  That’s a musical number.  Falling in love?  That’s a musical number with Don Bluth animation.

20090203-xanadu-1And dreaming up this crazy club that would be run by classy Gene Kelly and not-doing-art-for-the-man Sonny?  You know that’s a musical number.  In fact, that’s my favorite, where Gene is dreaming up a big band number with Olivia fronting an Anderson Sistersesque trio, and Sonny is dreaming up a “hot band” that’s as early 80s New Wave as you can get.  (The Tubes, actually).  OK, it’s more correct to say that the Anderson Sisters thing is clearly Olivia singing, but the three girls up there doing the bit are very much not Olivia.  And the “80s” vision is some serious retro-sci-fi nightmare fuel.  But, while the 40s song is fine enough, and the 80s song is pretty weak sauce… I have to admit, when the two songs come together, I kind of dig it.

But of course everything works out fine because they get the club open.  There really was no impediment to it: Gene decided he wanted to do it and told Sonny, “And you’re my partner!” The only impediment is that Kira, being a Muse and subject to the arbitrary rules of musedom or something, has to go back to her painting.  Because she did her job and inspired Sonny—the artist and painter—to open a dance club.

Yeah, I still don’t quite get that.

Zeus lets her go to the opening night anyway, so it really isn’t a big deal.  Clearly the people who made this movie realized there wasn’t a scrap of conflict, so they had to add a touch of drama. I mean, really, this movie is barely a wisp of actual content.  It’s filled with songs and dances, and still clocks in at under 90 minutes.  So there isn’t much time to actually talk or have a plot or anything.

And by “get the club open” I mean create a roller-derby fascist zoot-suited nightmare.  Clapping, stomping in unison, matching outfits and shouting “XANADU!” together.  Even granting its 80-ness aging poorly, it is deeply, deeply disturbing.  I imagine if someone wandered into this club, they would presume they had stumbled upon a cult.  Which it kind of is, because then it ends with huge TOTALLY INSANE song and dance number with all nine muses where they jump around in musical styles magically.  I’m not sure who thought switching from glamrock sexpot to cowboy girl was a good idea.

But there were very few good ideas in this movie.  Save giving Gene Kelly a dance number with Olivia dressed like a WAC.  Because that man was a national treasure.

NEXT WEEK: Earth Girls Are Easy

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5 thoughts on “XANADU: A Bad Movie I’ve Watched Many, Many, MANY Times

  1. Pingback: MODERN PROBLEMS: A Bad Movie I’ve Watched Many, Many, MANY Times | We Stream TV!

  2. I would argue that the aesthetic is really very much a 1970’s one…

    I still have a soft spot for the music, and it is a film that I too have seen dozens of times… The worst part of it is how UGLY it is… They keep trying to give Kelley a sort of classic, classy look, but he looks like he’s in a Sears ad to me…

    And the ‘Getting Dressed’ montage is the absolute worst for me…

    • And you’d be right, RJ! The movie premiered in the summer of 1980 (I remember, because I was working as an usher at The Paris Cinema in NYC when it came out and we showed it), which means it was shot in 1979, and the postproduction (which was extensive – I remember hearing it had more F/x shots than SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE!) pushed it to then.

      Marshall, there’s a line in the scene where Kira reveals the truth of her heritage to Billy where she tries to tell him her real name, and he stops her by kissing her. That, and that XANADU in parts follows the story of a 1947 Rita Hayworth movie DOWN TO EARTH about Terpsichore coming to Earth and falling in love with a creative type (which I think was originally called SWINGING THE MUSES – James Agee reviewed a movie much like it under that title), is where people get that “Kira” is the name Terpsichore takes on Earth.

  3. Pingback: EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY: A Bad Movie I’ve Watched Many, Many, MANY Times | We Stream TV!

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