In Los Angeles, artist Sonny Malone reluctantly returns to his job at Airflow Records - his job to do poster-sized exact renderings of album covers for on-site promotions, the renderings to be as close to the originals as possible - as he could not make a living as a freelance artist, where he could truly use his artistic vision. On his first day back at Airflow, he gets sidetracked by the thoughts of a young woman who literally roller skates into him. What he is unaware of is that their initial encounter and subsequent encounters are not by accident as she, Kira, a muse, was awakened by his lamentations about his art, she sent to help him achieve his artistic vision. This day, Sonny also meets aging Danny McGuire, a former big band musician turned construction company owner, he who wants to return to his roots by owning a live music venue. Danny initially and Sonny also do not know that their meeting is not by accident as Sonny will soon discover that Kira was part of his past. Sonny...Written by
Forehead-Slapping, Surreally Hilarious Hodgepodge Makes for a Unique Viewing Experience
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 again...hopefully.
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.
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