A place where nobody dares to go — showing The Apple to a friend the other night prompted a request to show Xanadu, and thus it was done. It has to be said that of the overblown disco movie troika (English-language, at least), consisting of said two films plus Can’t Stop the Music, Xanadu is the one that deserves the most beatings. They ALL deserve beatings, but Can’t Stop has an ensemble cast that is so wretchedly wrong that it’s right, which in combination with the script from bizarroworld — it wanted to date itself immediately, and did! — means merriment. And The Apple is The Apple. But why did Xanadu even get made?
Can’t Stop was NYC, The Apple was vague Euroworld, Xanadu was LA, and so very very poorly at that. Where something like Thank God It’s Friday actually had people going to an LA disco to, you know, dance, Xanadu was some sort of queasy nightmare where the titular club itself was a mere Macguffin, a beautiful old building (the Pan Pacific Auditorium, which went up in flames a decade later) that Gene Kelly (why, Gene, why, you really didn’t have to, you know) and Michael Beck, fresh from The Warriors and concluding his A-list career as such, pointlessly and stupidly decide to revive as some sort of modern club.
Oh god I HATE this plot, I realize, what a horrible horrible script — it’s allegedly based on Down to Earth with Rita Hayworth, but some things are remakes and other things are abortions that come to life. Kelly rises above all his material because you get the definite sense that he has immediately realized its limitations and therefore is going to do a perfectly professional job to demonstrate exactly how to come across when caught in a trap. But Beck is mere meat either petulant or stupefied, and Olivia Newton-John…look, in a world where Vanna White played Aphrodite, then fine, she’s a Greek muse, whatever, reinvention is a lovely thing. BUT FUCK YOU AND YOUR NOT-ACTING STARING EYES AND YOUR HORRIBLE BANTER AND WOODEN HORRIBLENESS. Sorry, had to vent.
The setpieces are what make this film ‘work’ as such, in that they’re so clunky and strange. Again, Can’t Stop had them but was openly trying to be a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney musical as such, and The Apple was nothing but a setpiece, thus the genius. Here, instead, they foist themselves on the watchers. Going and having champagne way up in the stalls at the Hollywood Bowl, fine, whatever. Immediately transforming into a Don Bluth-animated sequence, that’s when your head gets kicked in. The ELO song here isn’t so bad, in fact quite a few of the ELO songs here are pretty great, and Olivia scored three big hits from the soundtrack — title song, “Suddenly,” “Magic” — so watching the movie associated with them is a bit like those weird ‘videos’ they made for the Beatles and old Motown songs in the late eighties with nobodies prancing around library sets or the like. Except here the connections were intentional between visuals and audio, and they worked even less. So “Suddenly” plays and our romantic leads rollerskate around a studio with completely random theatrical sets put in place so that top musicians can get ‘atmosphere’ while recording, I dunno, The Long Run or something.
As the film progresses, though, the sheer proto-Daft Punk/U.S.E.ness of it all assumes a certain relevance — the film had already been addicted to airbrushed color-flashes and outlines and more besides, so when they finally start appearing in essentially every frame or near to it, as when Gene Kelly is told that he needs better clothes to look stylish (AT THE BUTT END OF THE SEVENTIES, GENE KELLY IS TOLD BY CHARACTERS WHO LOOK HORRIBLE THAT HE NEEDS BETTER CLOTHES TO LOOK STYLISH, why the hell didn’t they go all the way and have the characters say, “You know, your dancing sucks.”) and ends up in a pinball-machine set for his pains, or when Beck’s character goes to visit Olympus and Olympus is nothing but glowing neon bars and sparkling lights up above, okay, that I can deal with. Throw on “One More Time,” set in on an endless loop, heaven. Instead they give us a crap ballad for Olivia to warble and the camera spends three minutes tracking in on her via a slow close-up as she slightly moves around. *whimper* And then there’s the opening night of the club with the jugglers and the flight stewardesses and everyone skating around following Gene Kelly and chanting “Xanadu!” and the acrobats and the mimes and the country music sequence and the tiger-print outfits from Frederick’s of Hollywood and argh…it should be good but it isn’t. If Moulin Rouge didn’t work for you, don’t get anywhere near this.
Such a strange, sad movie. And the cult scares me. I suppose I do love this film, in that I can point to it and say, “At least I didn’t do that.”