“What the Hell did I just watch?” I asked myself as the end credits rolled for the 1980 film, Xanadu.
Xanadu is one of those films where words just fail you. It’s a musical and it stars Olivia Newton-John, who has a good voice even if she’s also kind of a bland screen presence. The music is really good. I love the main song and it’s definitely one that has gotten stuck in my head every time that I’ve heard it. Of course, for the longest time, I thought Olivia was singing, “One-a-due.” (Seriously, I’m the worst when it comes to mishearing lyrics.) But no, I later discover that she was singing about Xanadu and who would have guessed that Xanadu would turn out to be a roller disco?
Yes, it’s a very strange movie.
Xanadu starts out with a mural of nine women coming to life. The 9 women are the Muses. You may remember them from Greek mythology. They exist to inspire artists who inevitably end up falling in love with him without realizing that a muse is not allowed to love back. This leads to a lot of great art but also to a lot of broken hearts. Olivia Newton-John plays a muse named Terpsichore but she prefers to be known as Kira because …. well, wouldn’t you? For centuries, Kira has inspired great works of art. She’s worked with Michelangelo and probably a few poets as well. As someone who majored in Art History, I’m thankful for Kira because, without her, my degree would be totally useless as opposed to just slightly. In the year 1980, Kira has again entered the mortal world so that she can inspire …. a roller disco.
Listen, I could probably go on for about a thousand words about how disappointed I would be to go from inspiring the Mona Lisa to inspiring a tacky roller disco in Malibu. But it doesn’t seem to bother Kira so good for her! Of course, Kira is a bit distracted because she’s broken the number one rule of being a muse. She’s fallen in love with an artist!
Sonny Malone (Michael Beck) is a painter whose job involves painting larger versions of album covers so that they can be displayed in the windows of record stores. Sonny dreams of being an independent artist but instead, he’s stuck recreating the works of others. He feels like his life and his work are going nowhere. However, once he sees a picture of Kira, he is immediately inspired. And then, when Kira skates up behind him and kisses him, he’s in love!
The only problem, of course, is that Sonny is a human being and Kira is a mythological creature. If Sonny was destined to fall in love with a creature from Greek mythology, I guess he should be happy that it was one of the muses and not Medusa. But anyway, Kira says that she’s not allowed to be with Sonny so Sonny tries to talk Zeus and Hera into changing the rules. Whether or not he succeeds is kind of left up in the air. I think a bigger problem would be the fact that Kira is immortal whereas Sonny comes across like he’ll probably end up snorting too much cocaine before the 80s are over. But that’s never really brought up in the film.
Around the same time that Sonny meets Kira, he also meets Danny (Gene Kelly!), who is a former big time band leader who now spends his time hanging out on the beach and dreaming about opening up a roller disco. It turns out that, when Danny was a young man, he was also inspired by Kira. Danny and Sonny join forces and soon, Xanadu is a reality! Danny fantasizes about a 1940s style nightclub. Sonny fantasizes about a generic “rock club.” They may have two different visions but fortunately, they both agree one one thing: everyone has to wear roller skates.
Xanadu is one of those films where not much really happens but it’s still incredibly busy. Danny keeps on dancing. Sonny keeps on painting and bitching about how his life isn’t going anywhere. Kira keeps on roller skating through everyone’s life. As I said, the music’s great but the storyline …. well, to be honest, I thought the film’s story was fun as an example of something that could only have seemed logical in the late 70s. I mean, it’s an incredibly stupid film but Gene Kelly’s in it and, even at the age of 68, he was still such a dedicated old trouper that you can’t help but smile whenever he breaks out a few moves. Add to that, Michael Beck and Olivia Newton-John do make for a cute couple, even if both of them were reportedly miserable during filming. They just look like they belong together, in a California beach community sort of way.
Xanadu’s a big mess of a movie but it’ll make you dance and it’ll make you sing. All together now: One-a-due, One-a-due something want to do….*