Xanadu

Essential viewing
Released:
1980

Director: Robert Greenwald

Starring: Olivia!, Gene Kelly, Some Nobody

The Setup:

The daughters of Zeus come to Earth to inspire great artistic achievements. The one played by Olivia Newton-John inspires the opening of a crappy rollerskating nightclub.

Discussion:

Among the best bad movies ever made, this movie is in a class by itself. You MUST watch this movie. Sure, there are other classic bad movies, like Showgirls or Plan 9 or Glitter or whatever, but this one has such a generous feeling about it, is SO misguided in such a heartfelt way, that the hoots it inspires have a tinge of affection rather than contempt.

This movie is an unfortunate attempt to integrate the spirit of the 1940s musical with the music of the late 70s that fails on nearly every level. Olivia plays a daughter of Zeus who comes to life via a mural painted on a wall, then rollerskates by the album artist she is supposed to inspire to follow his dream. Apparently his dream is to open a shitty nightclub where people rollerskate.

Olivia, being of divine origin, is costumed throughout in these hideous white things that are supposed to look godlike, I suppose. Please take special note of the horrific leg warmers or whatever the hell those things are. Since her character has no discernable traits it is almost impossible for her to make any kind of impression, but then again, she is OLIVIA, so her megawatt fabulousness cannot be diminished. The guy she’s supposed to inspire [Michael Beck] is a low-rent Andy Gibb [and how AWESOME would it be if they’d gotten Andy Gibb!!!!!] who cannot act in any way. He also looks like the director Michael Bay. And then there’s the poor legend Gene Kelly, here in his last film, who can still dance. Opposite him, poor Olivia looks like one of those primitive toys poor farmers used to make with a stick in the back of a wood person, that you tap on your knee and it appears to “dance.”

There are too many individually incredible parts to go over. The transitions between scenes are classic. At one point our protagonists turn into cartoon fish [you see why you MUST be in an enhanced state]. The whole “Gene Kelly picks out his wardrobe” sequence is a hoot for all the late 70s “high fashion” on display. Seriously, nary a second of this gem goes by without some kind of hootworthy element making itself known.

The music, of course, is half by Olivia and half by ELO, with their one collaboration on the title track. Several of the musical sequences are tributes to classic film musicals, in particular Singin’ In the Rain [The “Suddenly” sequence from this movie as a retooling of the “You Were Made For Me” sequence from SITR is a particularly obvious example]. There’s a beautiful secret Olivia ballad here [at least it was unknown to me] in “Suspended In Time,” which is sung in one take against these fluttering neon things while Olivia glows like the Purina hi-pro dog. Then, just when you think this movie couldn’t POSSIBLY top itself, you get the climax, with the huge rollerskating build-up to “Xanadu,” which abruptly segues into this hideous rock song [not on the soundtrack, dammit!], and into this even more horrific country song, then maybe into something else, then back into “Xanadu.”

AMAZINGLY, it turns out that the guy who directed this is the same guy who directed the documentaries Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, and Uncovered: The War on Iraq. Can I just ask: WHAT the FUCK is up with that? It’s a fitting coda to an AMAZING movie. We totally need a special edition DVD of this. If you’ve never seen it, oh, WHAT a treat you have ahead of you.

Should you watch it?

I CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH how you should.

RELATED MOVIES:
ROLLER BOOGIE is the only other movie I know of that comes close to capturing the kind of energy this film has.
TWO OF A KIND was the other real nail in the coffin of Olivia's movie career, and is still worth seeing, though in no way half as amusing and lighthearted as this one.
Olivia: All Sexed-Up with Nowhere to Go [But Down] is my review of the Olivia Video Collection Volume II, which serves as a case study in Olivia trying to sex up her image and ruining her career in the process.

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