Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Mostly, I like to watch good movies, or movies that I think I will like. Sometimes, I like to watch bad movies, too, but only the ones that still provide some kind of weird entertainment value to them. Surely you guys know what I'm talking about. So bad it's funny. I especially enjoy bad movies like Xanadu, bizarre artifacts from a forgotten time. Movies you can show somebody and say "See, Timmy? (His name is Timmy) This is what a bad idea looked like in 1980."

Xanadu is the only Olivia Newton-John/Electric Light Orchestra Rollerskating Disco Musical Dance Showcase ever made, and for that reason, it is a unique jewel of crappiness that deserves our respect. We are never going to get another movie like this.

Kira (Olivia Newton-John) is one of the Greek Muses, released with her sisters from a painting on a building to go out and inspire. After dancing around, she runs into Sonny, an aspiring artist, who has all of the talent but none of the inspiration. At the start of the film, he is returning to his job at a company that paints album covers, after attempting and failing to embark on his own path. Not long after, he recognizes the same mysterious girl in a photograph that he is assigned to paint and decides to track her down.

I'm a little confused about the record album cover painting job. They already had photographs, why was he painting photoreal copies of them? Was there something I was missing?

Anyway, in his search for Kira, she guides him to Gene Kelly, playing a former song-and-dance man and club owner, also being inspired by the Muse. Together Sonny and Gene Kelly hatch a plan to open Xanadu, a new club that combines the Big Bands of the 1940's with the Rock and Roll Bands of the 1980's. And also roller skates. This is demonstrated in an painfully long dance musical number where a stage with a goofy rock band and a stage with a goofy Big Band combine and form SOMETHING ENTIRELY NEW!

So Sonny and Kira fall in love, but once the inspiration is given, she must move on. He follows her into the painting on the building, which is the most disappointing portrayal of Olympus in movie history and plead with Zeus and Hera to let her return.

It's ridiculous, I know. It's also totally innocent and in earnest, which is, in my mind, better than those bad movies that stink of cynicism and exploitation and making a buck. There were even a couple things about it that I genuinely liked. ELO was a good band, and there are one or two songs in there that I enjoyed, including the title song at the end. There's also a pretty great musical number, beautifully animated by the legendary Don Bluth. It reminded me a lot of the transformation sequences in The Sword in the Stone, which Bluth also worked on.

I felt the worst for Gene Kelly. The guy proves in the movie that he still has the skills. It's too bad that in his old age, he had to demonstrate his moves in a movie like this. They put him in some pretty embarrassing outfits and stuff. I hope he at least had fun and I'm not just projecting my embarrassment onto him.

So, I guess I could say that Xanadu is the best Olivia Newton-John/Electric Light Orchestra Rollerskating Disco Musical Dance Showcase I've ever seen. I'm glad to have finally seen it, in the way that it's kind of a pop cultural touchstone. But it doesn't even come close to the level of amazing badness of another disco musical I know of: The Apple. If you are the type who enjoys watching shitty movies with your friends, skip right past Xanadu and watch The Apple. Xanadu is a curiosity at best. The Apple is a hilarious crime against humanity.

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