Sep 24, 2010

[Movies] Xanadu (1980)

It's hard to pinpoint precisely what made the 80's such a memorable period of time. I was pretty young at the time and naturally a lot of my memories centered around the classic cartoons of the time and of course the Transformers. But even as I grew up, there are all those other echoes of the 80's that we've all picked up and look at with fond amusement such as Sony Walkmans, huge shoulder pads and aerosol hairspray.

The general consensus though is that the 80's were BAD no matter how you look at it. But at the same time, they were so bad, it was already good. Or does that even make sense? It was a period of time that really helped better define the market for campiness since in hindsight it looks so over-the-top ridiculous that it's hard to believe that it really happened.

And this movie is definitely a major part of that legacy - a show so strange and so bad that it certainly helped kick off the decade along with setting the tone for the colorful and perhaps traumatic years to follow. Plus the transitions were so RADICAL!

Xanadu was the musical movie (of sorts) released in 1980 as directed by Robert Greenwald. It was written by Marc Reid Rubel and the title was somehow linked to the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem "Kubla Khan" or "A Vision In A Dream: A Fragment".

The movie focused on frustrated artist Sonny Malone (Michael Beck), whose artistic abilities are wasted on making larger reproductions of record album covers for music stores. Unable to make it on his own creative pursuits, he seems doomed to a dull life as part of the larger corporate machine (in a manner of speaking). But things change when the fabled muses of Greek myth emerge from a graffiti mural to bring their gifts of inspiration to the world. Sonny bumps into one of them as she's rollerskating through the city and she gives him a kiss before rolling away. It is only in hindsight that he realizes that she's the same woman he had been painting for one of the album posters.

Olivia Newton-John at 61st Academy Awards 3/29/89Image via WikipediaSonny somehow becomes friends with clarinet enthusiast and construction mogul Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly), who lost his source of creative inspiration back in the 40's. Sonny has a few more run-ins with the rollerskating girl, who is named Kira (Olivia Newton-John) and she encourages him to pursue his creative desires. This results in him and Danny deciding to create, well, a roller disco club! But Kira is starting to fall in love with Sonny despite her nature and Danny has started to find her strangely familiar.

You'd think that a movie with such big name stars like Olivia Newton-John (she was popular post-Grease after all) and Gene Kelly would make this a show-in as a sort of "modern" musical for the time, but it was a flop that barely broke even. Let's face it - the synopsis above is horribly nonsensical and it really doesn't do much to give the characters logical reasons for doing what they do. And the lead actor, Michael Beck, wasn't at all skilled in his role and he didn't do much to make the character believable. Add in the ridiculousness of things and it just sort of went downhill from there.

Now as a musical movie, you have to amid that the few songs in there were pretty fun. Sure, they were mostly self-promoting Olivia Newton-John creations, but there were also fun contributions by the Electric Light Orchestra and, well Cliff Richards? Heck, it even had an animated sequence thanks to Don Bluth, who gave us An American Tale, All Dogs Go To Heaven and The Land Before Time! But of course the scene just didn't make sense in terms of the movie, no matter how well it was animated.

But going back to the music, there were also long stretches of long, boring dialog or weird instrumental dance sequences with excessive use of cheesy laser light effects. And roller skates. And a freaking hodgepodge disco that tries to blend older music styles with, well, the synth rock of the 80's. I think this movie may have actually threatened the very fabric of reality at this point in the film and it's a good thing it ended when it did. Who knows what permanent damage it could have caused space time because of their follies!

Xanadu is a major head trip with the occasional good song but in the end is so ridiculously bad, you know it has to be good. It gets 2 metamorphic animated fish that turn into birds to signify love!

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