Xanadu (1980)

Disco gets kind of a bad rap, I think. In its day, Disco was an unstoppable force of music. It was shiny and happy and was everywhere. It was born in 1970 and unofficially “died” in 1979 but its death throes obviously carried into the 1980s. It had many things going against it. First, Disco became a musical genre that was dominated by white people even though a lot of black people helped create it. Second, the culture of disco and disco clubs seemed to promote sexual promiscuity and heavy drug use. Disco also flooded the market with subjectively terrible music that drowned out the truly fun disco tunes. These distractions left Disco open for younger and hungrier emerging genres like Punk, Heavy Metal, Rap, and New Wave. Disco died even though it did not really need to but from its ashes, we got modern Pop and Techno music. Its death was not in vain but it is sad to me when any art form or genre dies.

I remember roller skating a lot from when I was a young boy. I was born in 1982, a year and a half after this movie was released. During my childhood, which stretched from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties, it seemed like there were two main choices for kids birthday parties. While I had parties where we had a literal field day or played minigolf at the coolest arcade in town, others just wanted to have pizza at the roller rink named Skateland. Skateland was a Baltimore institution. The one I went to was closed a long time ago but I know the franchise still exists. As I remember it, it was a huge slick floor where people of various skill levels skated around and around in a huge oval. The really good people often went into the center and did tricks. I was never one of those people, nor did I want to be. I was there for the pizza and the least amount of skating I could get away with. This is where I first heard a lot of songs that I have rarely heard outside of a roller rink. Songs by Ace of Base, Blue Suede, C&C Dance Factory, and the Village People were often played as loud as possible. I would often skate for a while and then run around the carpeted area outside of the rink with my friends. Then I would try to sneak over and plunk down any quarters I had at the arcade.

So first off, this was a box office bomb but it has an eclectic cast some of whom are seasoned musical performers. Olivia Newton-John is the star of this movie. Frankly, I liked her much more in this than I did in her most notable musical role. She is allowed to be really weird, ethereal, and mysterious in this which is fun. Michael Beck plays the male lead. He had just been in cult classic The Warriors. He had never really been in a Hollywood musical before but he plays the artist who is somehow more stable and grounded than Newton-John. He is a little flat in places but he is a solid performer. He does not sing. There is also an odd but likable performance from the legend Gene Kelly in his last film role. We get his trademark fast tongue and high energy mostly but he also gets a chance to shine at what he is most known for: dancing. In a lot of scenes, he looks tired but when he starts to dance, he looks as happy and as light as he always did.

The music is actually really good. First, they made a smart move and hired the Electric Light Orchestra to do a lot of the music. If you are not familiar, they are the band who did Mr. Blue Sky, Evil Woman, and Don’t Bring Me Down. Their synthy sound and Jeff Lynne’s floaty vocals are perfect for how weird this movie is. Also, they are a fun upbeat band to have around. The other songs definitely feel disco-inspired which, again, is strange considering the decline of disco as a genre. The music of Jazz and traditional show tunes are briefly touched upon through Gene Kelly’s character, linking this movie with a lot of the older musicals. Somehow, the movie manages to blend these three disparate styles together without it being too jarring. The movie is filled to the brim with special effects but they are 1980s special effects. They are over the top lights and sparkles that make things magical before CGI was a thing. There is also a random Don Bluth animated music video in the movie. The art direction is all over the place which feels right for the eighties which was all about clashing styles and weirdness.

Overall, I actually I liked this movie more than I thought I would. At first, I was not a big fan of the movie. It is a really strange movie but it has an endearing earnestness to it that I could not ignore. While a lot of the music is not really my thing, it is not bad at all. The chemistry between Olivia Newton-John and Michael Beck is cute and honestly, some of the best scenes have no dialogue and just have them smiling at each other and dancing/rollerskating. The friendship between Beck and Gene Kelly represents the connection between the old and the new and also reinforces the main theme of chasing your dreams. I also got more interested when I found out that the plot is based on Greek mythology concerning muses. Still, the movie drags in a lot of places and the pacing is weird. I can see why the critics trashed this one but it is not as bad as they said if you like weirdness.

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5 Responses to “Xanadu (1980)”

  1. Rowena Says:

    I had to pop round and check out your post on Xanadu. I’d forgotten all about the movie and only remembered the song. Being Australian, anything with Olivia Newton-John is almost sacred. She’s just amazing and to have an Australian star (even if she was really English) make it in America to those dizzy heights was incredible back then.
    My husband watches way too much TV to switch off after a stressful day at work and no doubt an equally stressful time coming home and watches weird movies sometimes seemingly just because they’re on. The other night we saw the clip for Total Eclipse of the Heart. Have you seen it recently? I had to Google an explanation. It looked a bit predatory and no way it would get made these days.
    Hope you have a great day.
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

    Like

  2. S. M. Saves Says:

    This is one of those movies I’ve heard of but never watched and really never knew the premise of. :)
    Your post brought on an intense feeling of nostalgia though with the mentioning of Skateland. There was a roller rink located on the outer edge of my hometown called Skateland. This was the mid to late 90’s and they played a lot of the early 90’s club hits plus Queen. “Another One Bites the Dust” was in heavy rotation. :D

    Like

    • Wolf of Words Says:

      Yeah, I kept confusing this and Brigadoon in my head for some reason. All I had really heard was the title song but I finally got a chance to check it out. Yeah, I think a lot of people are nostalgic about skating.

      Like

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