#117 – Xanadu

My husband is not happy that I’ll be, in his words, ‘tearing this movie apart.’ He wanted me to tell you that up front. We watched this several years ago, and I was amazed at the sheer 80s-ness of it, and now, I’m going to share it with you. Buckle up, it’s Xanadu!

The opening credits are a globe with different aircraft going around, including the Concorde and a UFO. That’s the level of craziness we’ve got going and we haven’t even gotten to the title yet. And I’m already sad that this movie is the fabulous Gene Kelly’s last cinematic role.

Opening on a man playing a clarinet on the beach at sunrise, and then we fade in on a guy who I always thought was Andy Gibb, but who is actually Michael Beck, doing some kind of art. Kenny Ortega is also part of this movie. Does he wish he wasn’t? (According to the featurette on the DVD, no, he does not. He is proud of this movie. And he got a lot of his dancer friends in the movie, so that’s good, right?) Artist is doing art things – crumpling, sketching, washing brushes in a glass that should be for water. I’m not an artist at all, so who knows if this stuff is accurate, or even good? Artist is upset with his own work, and rather than toss his rubbish in an actual trash can, he sends it out into the void via an open window, where it travels on the wind until it gets to a magic portrait of the 9 muses on the back of a building.

“I’m Alive” – seriously I love some of the music in this movie. My sister had this on LP and I remember playing it a lot in the basement of the house I grew up in. All the Muses are backlit in glow sticks and they get to dance off the art on the wall – well, all but Olivia Newton John, who is not a dancer. She’s wearing barrettes with ribbons on them and I totally had those. Is this where we all got that fad in the 80s?

Off the Muses go to run though LA like random people from Tron, inspiring the masses, or whatever they do. And Olivia gets to be on roller skates and she glows a lot until she meets artist guy, kisses him, and then rolls away in a streak of light.

Artist guy is named Sonny and he’s in a Studebaker (or some other kind of old wood paneled car) and he’s back to work at some kind of artist at a record company, where he’s not happy to be there, but he didn’t make any money as a starving artist. He is enlarging already conceived record album covers for posters. In paint. This seems like not a real job. But the album cover he’s got to enlarge has an Art Deco building with Olivia Newton John in glowing relief. Sonny is intrigued, and needs to find her out – enough to go talk to some weird German photographer, who doesn’t understand who she is either. The record cover was a photograph. If it was a photography, why couldn’t THAT have been enlarged for a poster? The mind boggles.

Sonny goes for a walk by the beach and he meets Gene Kelly playing the clarinet and immediately criticizes his playing, but them they become immediate friends. While they are introducing themselves, Sonny sees ONJ, and immediately uses his Gibb hair to borrow some girl’s bike, and that girl was totally fine with it. ONJ ignores him and just keeps roller-skating, until she waves at him just before he wrecks the bike and lands in the water. And then she floats away in a stream of orange light. Again.

Gene Kelly is offering sage advice, but he keeps calling Sonny ‘kid,’ like he used to do in almost every movie he was ever in. But next day, Sonny dons his own pair of roller skates and ends up near the art deco building from the album cover that is a broken down mess. Sonny is now bordering on obsession about this whole thing, but he’s hearing some kind of music, and off his roller skates go so he can break into the falling down building, but we’re glad he did because “You Have to Believe We Are Magic” is now playing. Damn, this song.

He spies ONJ roller skating for her life like some kind of ice princess. What Muse is she supposed to be? One who disappears in the shadows. Sonny is striking out on getting a date, but she knows his name, and off she goes again, but tells him her name is Keira before she goes. I don’t remember a Muse named Keira.

Sonny is cruising to be fired again, by being a perfectionist on this made up job, as he’s been invited to sit with his boss for a smackdown. Basically stifle your creativity and do your job. And isn’t that what most of us have to do? But Sonny doesn’t want to here it because he’s an artist, don’t you understand?

Sonny meets up with Gene Kelly, who’s character’s name is Danny McGuire. Danny lives in a huge-ass penthouse, and now they’re going to listen to Glenn Miller – and Danny is in the album liner notes, as is ONJ dressed like one of the Andrews Sisters. He ran a club in the 40s, but they paved his paradise and put up a parking lot. And he had some sob story about a girl who sang with the band who left, and he doesn’t care about clubs any more. Guess who the girl is? C’mon, guess. Sonny basically challenges Danny to start a club again, and sure, why not, Danny misses his girlfriend, and does his Gene Kelly stuff, and falls asleep for a flashback.

Big Band Memories in the background of his palatial apartment while he sits in the foreground remembering. ONJ is singing “Whenever You’re Away From Me” and now they’re dancing in memory. And suddenly it’s not dream, but they’re dancing anyway. Can I pretend I’m watching this instead?

On a side note, I watched The Pirate a while ago and Younger Son wanted to know why Gene Kelly kept wearing spandex. And seriously, if you had that butt, you’d wear spandex too.

This is not an invitation to Husband to break out his bike shorts, even though he looks good in them. Dance is over and Danny McGuire is sad, but next shot is Sonny, and he’s back to painting his useless art. Another side note, I hate when non artists paint in movies, because all they do is go over existing lines.

Keira shows up all beribboned and wide-eyed, telling Sonny that the abandoned building where she loves to skate should be Danny’s new club, and then they strap on their skates and end up in some kind of soundstage with lights and images, and now for some choreographed skating to “Suddenly.” I don’t like this song, but I do love how they manage to fly while they’re skating because Keira is magic and Sonny doesn’t even notice. FYI we’ve had three other scene changes and they are still skating. But they’re falling in love too so I guess it’s ok?

They end up at the broken auditorium, and she’s the Muse of inspiration and of dreams or whatever. She’s here to help both Sonny and Danny. Aww, isn’t that nice. And then some kind of skitter-wipe, and we’re back at the building in the morning with Danny and Sonny. Just check it out, Danny. Danny’s getting all inspired, and so is Sonny, and we’ve got dueling imaginations – 1940s Big Band sound vs Devo looking band with weird dancing in front. Which way will the club go – high class, or Studio 54 orgy? High Class 40s “I Wanna Dance With You” has zoot suits, Carmen Miranda hair, sailors and cigarette girls. Studio 54 Orgy “Won’t Take a Back Seat” has tons of satin, lyrcra, suggestive poses, and no one wearing underwear (I’m guessing). Seriously, how did anyone survive the late 70s-early 80s? And Younger Son would like to point out the the drummer in the Orgy Band is not on beat, and is not really playing. Thank You, Younger Son.

Oh my goodness – the two worlds are colliding! It is so freaking weird. and what is going on with the baby spotlights on top of the bandstand? They all have such halos that I think I have cataracts. But this imagination fever dream has convinced Danny McGuire that this crazy idea just might work! He’s back in show business! What should they call it? Well, Keira has a great idea, and quotes Coleridge and they’re gonna call it Xanadu. Danny thinks Keira looks really familiar, but she’s not gonna say why.

Sonny waltzes back in to the dead-end art studio and quits to run a club. And back to the dark club to celebrate with Keira and warm champagne. He sneaks a kiss, and she says don’t, and he respects that. She is also being super cagey about answering basic questions like what’s your last name, and where do you live. But she likes him enough to kiss him again and now we have an ANIMATED SEQUENCE. How did I forget this? “Don’t Walk Away” is performed by a tiny Keira and a tiny Sonny who look oddly like the animated Anastasia and Dimitri except now they turned into fish.

How many drugs were people on in this movie production? The answer is all of them. All the drugs. They are now birds. Keira’s bird is still wearing leg warmers. They get to be people again, kiss on an animated rose (not the kind of “Kiss from a Rose” that Seal sang about) and then it’s over. My Good Jesus what am I watching?

Danny is wearing a lovely seersucker suit. He says he wants to dance with Keira, and now they go on a shopping montage so he can get some glitz, pizzazz, and all the mannequins are alive. Again. All the Drugs.

This montage is just so Gene can dance in weird clothing, surrounded by very strange looking models. He is now wearing a fringed cowboy outfit like a Buffalo Bill from Annie Get Your Gun. So many star wipes later, there’s a dance sequence with spider webs, and everyone is following him while he’s in a tux on roller skates. Again, can we just watch this one?

I think I just had a mini stroke from the amount of glitter star wipes in this freaking movie.

And suddenly the club is one day from opening night, and Sonny and Keira keep dancing to no music. Sonny and Keira love each other, but now Keira is in The Sad Times because she isn’t supposed to be in love with anyone. She’s talking in riddles, and Sonny doesn’t get it, until she explains that she’s a Muse, sent to make Xanadu happen. She tries to explain who she is in a dimly lit apartment, showing off her skills with dictionary editing and old timey gangster movies. For reals. I’m picturing piles of cocaine. Like Scarface piles.

Keira broke the rules, and she’s upset, but you know, don’t go around saying I never should have done that, because it will make Sonny feel bad. She’ll love Sonny for ever, and then off she goes, beamed up to Mt. something or other.

Sonny is giving up on Xanadu because there’s no Xanadu without Keira. Sonny says Dreams Die, but Danny says, no they don’t, we kill them. Go get your girl, Sonny. It’s all up to you. And off he goes to walk on the beach, and then we get another street scene of Southern California, peppered with so many roller skaters.

Seriously, was roller skating this big of a thing? I say this even after watching Season 4 of Stranger Things, even remembering the several birthday parties I went to where I had to hug the wall because I was not a good skater. But enough about me.

Sonny finally finds the building where the muses are drawn and finds Keira’s image, and he skates into the brick building, but it’s like Platform 9 3/4 and he’s in a dark void with Tron lights around him. And then Keira’s there! He’s caught in some kind of Star Trekky lightshow, and he’s calling out Zeus, voiced by Wilfrid Hyde-White, who sounds super familiar, and now Zeus is getting heckled by his wife, and Keira has to point out she’s got feelings. Zeus says F your feelings, and now Keira has Major Sad Times. We’re talking “Hopelessly Devoted to You” Sad Times, but without the kiddie pool, but with tons of seizure-inducing Tron lighting. “Suspended in Time” is the song. Not as good as “Magic.”

She’s gotten 2 verses and 2 choruses to sing in this number. But her Sad Times work, and she gets to go to the opening, which is filled with juggling mimes and everyone on roller skates except for the dancers on platforms, the tap dancing zoot suit wearers, and the disco dancers all saying “Xanadu.” I am going to have nightmares about this damn movie. So many leg warmers. Why are there mimes? Some of these costumes look like they came from Flash Gordon – I imagine everyone was a fire hazard. Nothing is breathing here, which again, going on my underwear theory – means…ew.. And we’ve got a split screen of Danny roller skating, and now Keira gets to sing in a black jumpsuit. Gone are the ribbon barrettes, she looks like she should be on Dynasty. But it’s the title track.

There’s some pop-and-locking, some kind of dancing with women with major shoulder pads. There are tightrope walkers, one of whom has hair like Brian May. WHY. There is also an aerialist on roller skates.

And now for the Busby Berkley portion of the movie, with more dancers filmed from above. It’s the 9 Muses, and now they’re gonna tap dance. WHY. And the music sounds like a demented carousel.

But those Muses had a quick change and they’re grinding and fake singing in leopard print jumpsuits. I don’t even know what song this is.

And now they’re cowgirls with ribbon lassos. The fringe. My God. The Fringe. This movie is melting Younger Son’s mind.

And now they’re full on Flash Gordon.

And back to hippie girls in ribbons. Bye Bye Keira. Sonny looks devastated, but the club goers look like they are having fun. Then Danny says, hey Sonny, have a drink, and wouldn’t you know, it’s Keira as a waitress, and DONE.

The featurette that Husband is watching is telling me that a) there was barely any script, b) they were proud of all the dancers that are in it, c) Gene Kelly didn’t want to dance in it, but he did get a good relationship with Kenny Ortega out of it. And it was a flop, but it has gained a huge cult following since 1980, so, fine. And also, apparently painting album covers for promotional use was a job, and Brian Grazer had that job. This was a film of craziness that even the people involved in the film acknowledge isn’t that great, but there are people who love it. I don’t think I am one of them, but Husband is, and that’s ok. I watched it, just so you don’t have to.


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