Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Yes, I said rollerskates.

Over the weekend, TM and I catered to one of his whims and watched Xanadu on Watch Instantly. Neither of us had ever seen it before. I was skeptical.

Holy cow, that's some crazy business. The '70s and '80s collide in a horrifying rollerskating pile-up. Why was everyone on rollerskates? Why did Gene Kelly stoop so low?

Sometimes the movie seemed like little more than a flimsy showcase for bad fashion. I mean, you've got legwarmers, short shorts, orange jumpsuits (my favorite line: when Sonny Malone has a vision of a club with a "great rock band" which he describes as, "Six guys in electric orange suits!"), extraneous straps and zippers, off-the-shoulder peasant blouses--a panoply of ugly clothing, none of which seemed to have anything to do with any of the other ugly clothing. And, oh yes, rollerskates.

The plot, which lacked all narrative tension, goes something like this:

Sonny Malone is a whiny would-be artist. He's a commercial artist who believes that he is meant for Higher Things, but the Man (= his boss) tries to dissuade him by saying, literally: "I used to be into Art. But I gave up Art for Money. You should do the same thing." It's subtle!

Anyway, Sonny mopes, and somehow his moping causes a really bad painting of eight or so women to become animated, and the muses descend upon LA. Apparently, see, Zeus really wants a roller rink called Xanadu to be built, so he sends the muse Kira (the muse of disco?) to inspire him. He sees her and becomes obsessed, but his pursuit only lasts about three minutes, because then she turns up and they start hanging out. Meanwhile he meets Gene Kelly, who used to play the clarinet but doesn't any more. For some reason, they decide to open a disco/nightclub/roller rink (because, the movie tells us, They Need A Dream To Care About. Why be more specific than that?). Everything goes exactly according to plan!

However, Sonny then tells Kira that he loves her. For some reason. I mean, he knows seriously nothing about her--like, she won't even tell him her last name. But whatever. She says that she loves him, then immediately reveals that she's a muse and disappears. Sonny mopes some more--he almost refuses to go to Xanadu's opening!--but then, for some reason, he jumps headlong into the aforementioned bad painting and finds himself in a crazy electric Tron-like space. There, he rails ineffectually against Zeus and is then dumped back on earth. Kira sings an incredibly boring song, and Zeus and Hera decide that she can go back to earth.

The club opens. There is a bizarre and spectacular club-opening dance sequence. Kira serves Sonny a drink. All is well.

So the movie would, in fact, be pretty dull, but for all the fashion hilarity (which is totally worth it). It does, however, have this fucking insane sequence.

Watch it! Gene Kelly dancing with punk rock oompah loompahs, and Spiderman! Take a break from grading and watch it!

(In other news, I'm almost done with EVERYTHING. More bad movies in store, perhaps?)


Earnest English said...


I have to admit I love Xanadu, though I first saw it when it came out and I was young then, so maybe those things make a difference. (Also, I know Venice really well, and it uses Venice liberally.)

Sorry you didn't like it. It's certainly a mess -- there's interesting background there about how the script and story kept morphing. But I still love it.

(Kira is, of course, Terpsichore, the muse of dance, and, therefore, disco too.)

Renaissance Girl said...

Like EE, I grew up on this shit, and I adore it, and not even like I adore Land of the Lost (that is, with irony and a sort of snarky camp). Sure, ELO was technocheesy at times, but Jeff Lynne was actually a really great musician, as testified by his brilliant (and winking) collaboration with Dylan, Petty, Orbison, and Harrison in the Traveling Wilburys. The Tubes number (the orange jumpsuit guys) always made me feel vaguely naughty as an 11-year old: that S&M stagecraft and all. My sister and I would don legwarmers and flowy skirts and dance all over the house. I think she has the whole movie's dialogue memorized. I just have the music.

I had a grad class over for an end-of-term party a couple of years ago, and we watched Xanadu. There may have been some sock-skating silliness at one point in the evening. It happened that there was only one male in the class. At the end of the night, he said to me, "You know, I liked that movie a lot. But I will never, ever tell any of my friends what we did at this party."

Renaissance Girl said...

Also, the animated sequence was done by Don Bluth, who went on to make An American Tale. And who went to high school with my dad. Birds with legwarmers! Brilliant!

heu mihi said...

Oh my, it was not my intent to offend! I actually had a blast watching it...but, well, okay, I confess, I wouldn't say that it was a "good" movie. The guy who played Sonny Malone is pretty lame. It must be admitted.

But this reminds me of a time about 12 years ago when I made my then-boyfriend watch "The Neverending Story" with me. I loved and continue to love that movie. He, however, had not seen it until that day (at age 23 or whatever), and his experience was very different--and for less delightful--than mine. It makes a difference, I think, when we initially encounter something like that.

Earnest English said...

By the way, in the original script, the reason why the muses were particularly interested in Sonny Malone and wanted great things for him was because he was the one who painted the mural they came to life in. I just think that's fascinating.

RG, I just love you right now!

HM: I wasn't offended, just saddened. I didn't mean the frown to mean that I was frowning the entire post, just disappointed you didn't like it. Of course, much of your evaluation is true, but I love it anyway. I love The Neverending Story too! But not with the same love and embarrassment with which I love Xanadu. I have to admit I came to Coleridge's Kubla Khan through Xanadu. Very high brow.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

That was just pretty freakin' bizzare.

Renaissance Girl said...

No, no. Don't mistake me: it's a TERRIBLE movie. But I still love it.

Renaissance Girl said...

And EE: HA! I also came to Coleridge via Kira.

What Now? said...

Oh, goodness -- I haven't seen that movie since junior high; yeesh, not good! But oh, how I loved the soundtrack, which I played over and over in junior high and high school. And, quite frankly, Gene Kelly has some pretty inane dance sequences in his classic movies -- fabulous dancing, of course, but utterly strange and non-pointful attempts at plot in the middle of films -- so this doesn't actually seem so out of character for him.

heu mihi said...

"Non-pointful." I love that.

I get where you're coming from, EE. One of the things that our love for certain movies (like our love for certain fashions!) can point out is just how highly contextual art/taste can be.

Anonymous said...

There was a time when the soundtrack was on a neverending loop at our house. Though I do think if I hadn't been exposed to it when at an impressionable age at the height of Olivia Newton John mania (which the country was engaged in), I would not have liked it nearly as much.

That sounds like a hella fun party, RG.

Anonymous said...

he Tubes number (the orange jumpsuit guys) always made me feel vaguely naughty as an 11-year old: that S&M stagecraft and all.
Generic Viagra