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XANADU is one of the most critically and commercially panned films in
Hollywood history, a 'Nouveau Art' musical with Art Deco themes, a
conceived animated interlude, and performances of such widely varying
caliber that a viewer might wonder if the actors were all reading from
same script! But all that being said, I would like to offer a minority
opinion, and say that I didn't find the film THAT terrible, and there are
some aspects of it I actually enjoyed...
First and foremost, it offers the legendary Gene Kelly, in his last musical, as charming and wonderful as ever. As retired musician/businessman Danny McGuire, Kelly has the film's best moments, including a 'classic' song-and-dance scene with Olivia Newton-John and some silly but endearing 'post-disco' routines with the talented young dancers of the cast (including future CONAN star Sandahl Bergman). Seeing him on roller-skates again, leading everyone around the club he builds, to the music of the Electric Light Orchestra, makes one realize just how irreplaceable he is. Kelly could do it all, and with style!
The premise of the film, of a Muse coming from Olympus to inspire an artist, is far-fetched, but had been done on film several times in the past (ONE TOUCH OF VENUS, with Ava Gardner and Robert Walker, and DOWN TO EARTH, with Rita Hayworth, are the examples most often cited), and while Olivia Newton-John is oddly cast in the role, she tackles it gamely, with a smile and a wink, and isn't THAT bad. On the other hand, Michael Beck, best-known as the gang leader in cliched but powerful THE WARRIORS, is totally miscast as the artist she falls in love with. An actor with limited range and no singing or dancing talent, Beck lacks the charisma to pull off the role (one wonders why British pop star Cliff Richard, who voices Beck's animated duet with Newton-John, 'Suddenly', wasn't utilized to play the part).
While the film often veers off in bizarre directions, the 'Battle of the Bands' scene between popular 80s rockers, the Tubes, and a 'Tommy Dorsey/WWII'-style orchestra (as Beck and Kelly envision what the 'look' and 'sound' of their club, XANADU, should be), actually works, and is fun to watch. The entire score, by Barry De Vorzon and John Farrar, and Jeff Lynne (with ELO) is terrific (and made the soundtrack album a hit).
Sure, the ending is hokey, but it was also the same ending of ONE TOUCH OF VENUS and DOWN TO EARTH, so XANADU can't be totally faulted!
All in all, XANADU isn't the WORST film ever made, and if you give it a chance, you might find it a guilty pleasure!
First of all, I really need to ask, WHAT ON EARTH WAS SO BAD ABOUT THIS MOVIE?!?!? This was quite simply the Moulin Rouge! of the 80's. The acting may have been a little cheezy, but it wasn't all that great in Moulin Rouge! either. People need to understand that this is a MUSICAL and musicals aren't necessarily known for their great acting performances. They are noted for their brilliant choreography, songs, and stage settings, which I felt both "Moulin Rouge!" and "Xanadu" contained. Moreover, the story in "Xanadu" wasn't all that incoherent and reminded me a lot of "Field of Dreams" when Kevin Costner is inspired by a voice from an invisible muse to build a baseball field. So, while some of the criticism of this film is justified, I feel much of it is not and it took way more of a beating than it should have. One has to remember that there have been many films made which were raked over the coals by critics, yet the films became enjoyed by many later on.
I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. But, you know what, that's my opinion and I don't
think I should have to feel ashamed of it so there!
On to the review.
No true connoisseur of cheesy movies can die happy withought feasting their eyes on the Miracle That is "Xanadu". There are so many things wrong with this movie I don't know where to begin, but somehow they all fit together in a final form that is remarkably endearing. It's best to watch it withought the vaguest idea of what it's about, but I will say this:
This is exactly what "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" would have looked like if Willy quit the candy business and decided to turn the factory into a disco.
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.
The first time I saw this movie, I was entranced. At the time, buying a
copy of the movie was not an option, but I would have bought a copy if
I could have. I spent many happy hours roller skating to the pulsing
beats of the soundtrack. Later, I learned that the "critics" had panned
it, and I was shocked. Well, what do THEY know, anyway? As ONJ said, in
the movie, '
use your imagination.'
What is there to hate about this movie, anyway? ;) The movie contains: people following their dreams, roller skating (and roller dancing), love, the beauty of the California coast, talented artists (painters, musicians, actors, singers, dancers, etc.), a wide variety of cultural experiences, a sound track that is the ultimate in great music, energetic dancing in many different forms, vivid colors, interesting special effects, good-looking people, an upbeat and positive message, and a general appreciation for all forms of art. There's even something for the intellectual in the crowd - the mythical city of Xanadu, discussed in many cultures, was always a place of sparkling jewels, art and beauty. I admit that the acting could have been better. For that, I lowered the rating from a 10 to an 8. But, come on - it wasn't THAT bad.
To me, Xanadu is a piece of art to be appreciated. This is quite a fitting tribute to muses, when you think about it. Now that I own a copy, I will let the beauty of the art surround me whenever I enter the world of Xanadu.
A word of advice to any movie producer: if you have a big-budgeted
production that you hope will become a hit, don't hire a director whose
only previous experience is on TV. Director Robert Greenwald had
directed only TV movie dramas before being assigned to this job, and it
shows painfully. The camera either stays still or moves slowly and
gracefully, when they should have flung it around and experimented with
camera angles to create some oomph for the movie-going audience to feast
upon. The only department that really tried here was the art department
that created the arty scene-shifts with the accompanying sound effects,
and the neon-colored special effects flashing around Kira and the other
muses. Don Bluth also provided an animated sequence that offers the
only magical moment in the whole film - makes you wish the whole movie
had been made in the same style. That would have had so many
advantages: the whole superficial story would have been easier to take
for instance. Michael Beck would have had a movie career, and we would
have been spared from watching
"Oh-I'm-so-cute-but-so-poor-at-moving-my-legs-around" Olivia in a
second film (or maybe not).
That said, I'm particularly ashamed to admit that I actually like "Xanadu". Very much. The music is the main reason - years before I had seen this film or even heard of it, I had heard "Magic" in the radio, and managed to get a two-minute snippet of it on tape, thinking it was an Abba song I hadn't heard before (no, I'm not an Abba fan - they have a few good songs, but I hate their albums). One day years later, "Xanadu" was on TV in the hotel room I stayed at during a holiday in Sweden - and I happened upon the very scene where "Magic" is heard, where Sonny meets Kira for the first time. Sadly, I couldn't stay to watch the rest, but I immediately wanted to catch the film from beginning to end. Now I have it on tape, and I regularly pop it on my VCR and enjoy the pretty photography, beautiful music, and the irresistibly corny 1980 kitsch "Xanadu" is so chock-full of. A guilty pleasure of the highest magnitude - after all, I'm a nostalgia freak and always will be one.
I was amazed to discover that the director of this legendary fiasco is
the same Robert Greenwald who would go on to make several shrewdly
observed documentaries nearly a quarter century later - "Outfoxed:
Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism", "Uncovered: The War on Iraq",
"Unconstitutional: The War on Our Civil Liberties". What surprises me
even more is how in its sheer, misguided exuberance one can just giggle
at the studio mindset that came up with the hilariously awful concept
and resulting production. On one hand, "Xanadu" is like passing by a
car accident...you can't help but stare. On the other, you have to
celebrate the fact that it is indeed unique and that we will never see
a musical fantasy extravaganza as bizarrely conceived
A mishmash of surreal, forehead-slapping elements that never really congeal, the 1980 movie's fanciful storyline centers on Sonny Malone, a struggling LA commercial artist tired of recreating album covers on canvas for a record company. He is visited by Kira, one of nine muses from ancient Greece, who come to life from a Venice Beach wall mural (set amusingly to ELO's "I'm Alive"). She inspires Sonny to partner with Danny McGuire, a wealthy eccentric whom she may have inspired when he was a big band clarinetist with his own supper club in New York 35 years earlier. Together, they decide to take the dilapidated, art-deco Pan Pacific Auditorium and turn it into a roller disco club called Xanadu. If that doesn't sound preposterous enough, the cardboard dialogue, overdone Vegas-style sets and cheesy special effects compound the absurdities exponentially.
At her virginally pretty peak, the florescent-lighted Olivia Newton-John plays Kira in the same wide-eyed manner she displayed as Sandy in "Grease". That she is able to sing, dance and skate with some ease is a pleasant albeit limited surprise. Looking like the lost Bee Gee, a wooden Michael Beck is a blank slate as Sonny, delivering lines as if playing a romantic lead amounts to an alien encounter. As Danny, the 68-year old Gene Kelly is simultaneously celebrated and humiliated as his character is ridiculously drawn in very broad strokes. He provides the film's one unequivocally lovely moment as he shows his still-fluid movements dancing with a uniformed Newton-John on the evocative big-band number, "Whenever You're Away From Me". Between her smooth singing and Kelly's soft-shoe dexterity, it's quite magical. Unfortunately, later on, Kelly goes through a series of color-challenged pimp outfits in the silly costume number set to ELO's toe-tapping "All Over the World".
But Kelly is not the only victim here as silly moments abound - a hilariously overdone 1945-meets-1980 musical fantasy extravaganza, "Dancin'", featuring 80's rock band, the Tubes, and outlandish, Solid Gold-type choreography; and there are a couple of gooey pas de deux numbers between Newton-John and Beck - one amid rising palm trees and other props set to "Suddenly" and the other set to ELO's "Don't Walk Away" with the pair wackily transformed into fish and lovebirds in a Don Bluth cartoon sequence. The most spectacularly inane moments are saved for last - the tacky final production number with a split-screen Kelly skating and Newton-John singing the title tune as she goes through a gamut of irrelevant musical genres and variety revue costumes.
The pacing of this movie feels very off and the editing choppy, as the 93-minute movie alternately skitters and drags along coming to a dead halt with Newton-John's overlong number in Tron-like heaven on "Suspended in Time". By the time the movie mercifully ends, one feels the same way an audience member felt watching "Springtime for Hitler" in "The Producers" - utter disbelief yet an unexplainable giddiness about how ludicrously it was all presented. I have to admit some of the music is damnably catchy, for example, "Magic". By the way, I saw this movie not on DVD but on the big screen in a pristine print at the fully packed Castro Theater in San Francisco as part of a roller-disco midnight madness program, and the crowd went wild at every absurdity. I have no doubt that this is the optimal way to see this movie.
I originally saw "Xanadu" when it was released in 1980. Gene Kelly was
in it, so I had to see it. It didn't hurt that Michael Beck was in it
as well. Wow - was I disappointed! I love musicals, especially Kelly's,
and "Xanadu" really did not appeal to me - at all.
It really isn't a very good movie. It has almost no plot at all and no real antagonist. What little plot there is, I always felt was just lifted from "Down to Earth" (1947) with Rita Hayworth, and "Cover Girl" (1944) with Hayworth, and Gene Kelly (in which he also plays a character named Danny McGuire, which was a nice homage). The soundtrack is great though, and it is nice to see that Kelly can still dance.
Fast forward to 2006. I got a chance to see "Xanadu" again, on a big screen. Specifically, the wonderful Castro Theatre in San Francisco. The print was gorgeous, and the crowd, which filled the theatre almost to capacity, was incredible.
IT WAS SO MUCH FUN!!! The crowd really got into the movie and I just had a blast! What a great experience! The music is still great, and it was a really, really fun movie.
Anyway - "Xanadu" still isn't a "good" movie, but if you can see it under the right circumstances (ie., on a big screen with an audience) it is a great deal of fun.
Xanadu, which has received some scathing one-sentence reviews, flopped
in a big way at the box office, and even helped inspire the creation of
the Razzies, is underrated. Not as underrated as that statement would
normally imply, but enough. The reason why it is underrated is similar
to the reason why it stinks. Xanadu consists of two parts, each of
which can be divided into two parts depending on how successful each
scene making up those two parts are.
The first part is all dialogue, in which Michael Beck, Gene Kelly, Olivia Newton-John, or combinations thereof, spend a lot of screen time talking about the importance of following one's dreams. The success of this part of the film depends largely on how tightly integrated it is with the musical part. When the male leads discuss music in particular, it starts to fall flat as the artistic sentiment of a bygone era tries unsuccessfully to gel with the lowest-common-denominator mentality of what was then the present. The music sequences that fit in with this rule tend to suffer a lot, too. The attempt to blend a 1940s jazz band with Electric Light Orchestra, who were never really that representative of any culture, even those of the 1980s, is especially embarrassing. It dates the whole film beyond return.
On the other hand, when the musical and dialogue sequences are not connected to one another, they work so well. Michael Beck's dialogues with the supporting cast about how his dreams of artistic freedom failed are brilliantly executed. The dialogue between Beck and Kelly in which the latter basically tells the former that quitting now will leave him with a lifetime of regret is pure gold. The conversation in which Beck's and Newton-John's characters argue with the voices of the gods, performed by Wilfrid Hyde-White and Coral Browne, works wonderfully in spite of the ludicrous costume on Beck. But the real gem in this flick is the climactic rollerdisco scene. I don't know how long it took them to coordinate and stage this myriad of sequences, but the result was worth every bit of effort.
Unfortunately, the film is not without its problems. Many sequences are either boring or outright ludicrous. The animated part in particular fails to fit in with the rest of the film. Major rewrites began close to production as the producers tried to distinguish the production from other rollerskating-themed films of the time. According to Olivia Newton-John, the film was literally being written as it was shot, and nowhere does this show more than in the final musical sequences of the aforementioned rollerdisco scene. It was as if the makers decided to put in as many shots of Olivia singing and dancing in as many costumes as they could. Perhaps the problem was in the editing, as the aforementioned on-the-spot writing would have caused a problem with knowing exactly when to call it over. Truth be told, it does stretch a little past its welcome, if only by a few minutes. But then, show me a film that is not guilty of the same offense, and I will show you a masterpiece.
Truth be told, this film is nowhere near as bad as the IMDb rating would have you believe. It is not all that good, either, but it gets a little bit more right than wrong. Compared to excruciatingly bad musicals that take themselves far too seriously, such as the recent Chicago adaptation, this is pure gold. Hence, in spite of a lot of problems, I rated Xanadu a seven out of ten. It is a real guilty pleasure of a film, and really needed more time in pre-production, but it is entertaining for more than half of its running time, which is more than I can say for a lot of other films. Especially of this genre.
Although some might call this "Xanadon't" it has redeeming qualities. The
music is the most redeeming. I've always liked ELO and their music carries
Several movies of this type were made about the same time: "Roller Boogie", "Skatetown U.S.A.", etc. If you liked any of these you'll most likely like Xanadu.
This is one of those films you just have to watch and decide for yourself. As you can see just by what's been written here, opinions vary tremendously. And all are valid.
I gave this movie a 6 of 10 because I liked the music and sets.
Just try it. You may like it.
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