Thursday, July 24, 2014

DELICIOUSLY BAD, 1980's 'XANADU' WAS INDEED "A PLACE WHERE NOBODY DARED TO GO."

The musical that would have reunited the stars of Grease if Olivia Newton-John had had her way (but John Travolta, apparently holding out for an even worse script, waited for the 1983 Two of a Kind), XANADU broke new Bad Movie ground by grafting '40s whimsy together with late '70s muzak to pioneer discokitsch. From the opening scene --- when a wall mural of nine babes comes alive so that chorus girls dressed in Bobbi Mannix's peasant-chic garb can run, hop, and rollerskate --- it's clear that this is the inevitable companion to Can't Stop the Music. Delightfully dreadful on their own, viewed together back-to-back they are unassailable as the worst movie musicals ever.

Acting exactly as if she were still a painting on a wall, Newton-John has come to earth to "inspire" down-on-his luck artist Michael Beck, hoping this movie will do fo her what Down to Earth did for Rita Hayworth and One Touch of Venus did for Ava Gardner. "Inspire" him to do what, you ask? Why, to open a roller-disco nightclub, natch, with the backing of rich, lonely Gene Kelly. (Some favor she's doing them, for such skating palaces faded faster than Pet Rocks.)

After giving Beck only her first name, Newton-John aptly sums up her cinematic appeal when she says, "Listen. you know enough about me already --- any more, and you're going to get a headache." Meanwhile, Kelly looks in a mirror and says exactly what we're thinking: "You're getting old." Indeed, his presence effectively makes Newton-John look, well, youngish.

The movie's tacky highlight occurs when Beck and Kelly literally conjure up their visions of their club-to-be, combining the worst of faux '40s musicals with shallow '70s rock, and the two clash together on screen in an electric-orange-jumpsuit-meets-striped-zoot-suits production number that punishes both the eye and the ear --- while tickling the funny bone, "I love it," enthuses Kelly, "I may be crazy." (May be?)

The madness escalates when Beck and Newton-John take Kelly shopping at Fiorucci --- the Eurotrash emporium of the day --- which they correctly call "a franchise glitz dealer." Kelly's musical fashion show is one for the ages --- he must've been desperate for a comeback to agree to dance as a giant pinball across a pinball game set (because the only other explanation is senility). "We've been painted by Michelangelo, Shakespeare's written sonnets for us, Beethoven's played music for us," Newton-John muses to Beck (never mentioning that now Electric Light Orchestra has wailed for them). "Let's skate!" cries Kelly on the club's opening night, so jugglers, mimes, waiters, and what appear to be Tomorrowland employees all skate in circles, holloring "Ho!" (Someone should have guessed that audiences would be pealing, "Ho-ho-ho!")

On a personal note, your hostess managed to catch Xanadu on the big screen three times in one week before Universal ripped it out of cinemas due to general lack of interest. (Very oddly, the soundtrack album saw sales that went right through the roof!)

With animation (don't ask) by Don Bluth and later turned into a hit 2007 Broadway musical (Who knew!), Xanadu is an absolute must-see for discriminating collectors of the sublimely bad in musical cinema.

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