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Randy Goldberg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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"Xanadu" is by no means the worst musical ever made.
I have been a fan of ONJ since 1973. At that time, she had already been in three movies. She was only 18 years old when she appeared in an Australian flick called "Christmastime Down Under." In 1970, she starred in a film called "Toomorrow," a science-fiction fantasy that involved alien abduction. Then in 1972, she was in a movie with Cliff Richard where she sang her latest record ("Banks of the Ohio") and a duet with Cliff.
Flash forward 8 years and history is repeated with "Xanadu," only this time Olivia is the star and Cliff joins her for a song ("Suddenly").
Filming started on "Xanadu" with no script. All that existed was an 18-page treatment (plot summary) and an overarching theme: The Big Band Era meets the 80s Rock Era.
Because everyone hired to work on the film was given this overall theme to work with, they all went off to their respective departments and started working: Set designers began designing sets, location scouts went out looking for shooting sites, costume designers started their work...and while all this was going on, development of the script was largely ignored.
The music was written and recorded long before what can be called the "final script" was written. On each day of shooting, the actors were handed a few pages of the script that had been written only the night before. By the time principal filming was done and the film was assembled, so many incongruities and inconsistencies in the film were apparent that scenes had to be rewritten, re-shot, or cut entirely.
Olivia was somewhat of a phenomenon by 1980. She was already named the most successful female recording artist, out-selling even Barbra Streisand. And she happened to star in the most successful musical film of all time: "Grease." At the time, studios came at her from every which way, offering handsome deals so that they could cash in on her enormous commercial appeal.
The producers of "Grease" also approached Olivia with another project, but Olivia's management balked at the money they offered. Allan Carr, the more vocal of the "Grease" producers, said of Olivia's refusal, "She's a pretty face, but she ain't no Streisand." The film Allan Carr wanted Olivia Newton-John to star in was called "Disco Heaven," which was later retitled as "Can't Stop the Music." Instead, the lead role went to Valerie Perrine ("Superman: The Movie"). Her costars...none other than The Village People.
"Can't Stop the Music," although not without a charm of its own, is arguably THE worst musical motion picture of all time.
Another strong contender for worst musical motion picture of all time would have to be Olivia's other film, "Toomorrow." The movie was produced by the same folks who played a role in creating "The Monkees." Because "The Monkees" was such a money-making concept in the US, producers felt they could repeat the success in England. While The Monkees were enjoying success on television in the United States, Toomorrow (also the name of the musical quartet) would star in a series of big screen films in the cinema. Toomorrow would never enjoy such success. Their first outing lasted only a week in theaters before it was pulled from theaters.
Perhaps its failure had something to do with the music. The songs and the singing in "Toomorrow" are poor. The only member of the four-member group that does not sing off key is Newton-John. There is no choreography to speak of. Instead, people dance in place and, I must admit, it is amusing to see Newton-John gyrate like Goldie Hawn did on "Laugh-In." Don Kirshner, the man credited for having invented The Monkees, The Archies, and Toomorrow, still holds the rights to the 1970 movie. He is rumored to have said that he will never allow the film to be released as long as he is alive. In fact, during her own hey-day, Olivia refused to acknowledge she ever made the film. Today, however, she embraces it, having recently hosted a successful and fun midnight showing of the movie.
Many people feel the saving grace of "Xanadu" is its music. Critics said the only positive thing to say about "Toomorrow" was its special effects. For its time, the special effects were cutting edge (it was one of the first movies to incorporate CGI on film). Vic Kemper (who recently passed away) is the man behind the cinematography and special effects for both "Xanadu" and "Toomorrow." "Xanadu" effectively put a huge black mark on Newton-John's credibility as a big screen actress ("Two of a Kind" put to rest any doubt on the matter), but I am glad that Olivia is still alive to see "Xanadu" and "Toomorrow" finally get the acknowledgment and recognition the films deserve, even if their worth as works of art is found only in their nostalgic value.
For a musical that had its songs written before the script, the film came together nicely in the final analysis. And while Newton-John is no longer bad-mouthing the movie when asked, co-star Michael Beck ("Sonny") is still bitter. He made a telephone appearance during a "This Is Your Life" program honoring Newton-John a few years back and his snide comments made Newton-John squirm in her seat.
Gene Kelly never mentioned regret for having participated in the film, although he did say something was terribly wrong with the way modern movies are made. God rest his soul.
Sadly, it was announced that another member of the "Xanadu" cast has passed away. Fred McCarren, the young actor who played Richie (Sonny's co-worker artist friend) died of cancer on July 2, 2006. He was 45. God rest his soul.
I am deducting two stars because the makers of this film should have known better than to start filming without a script.
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