Jarv’s Birthday Series: Xanadu (1980)
Day 3 in the Birthday Series, and it’s time for the series to take a screaming nosedive into shitsville. I’d never even heard of this when it came up, and I didn’t actually bother checking what it was about, as I naively assumed that a film called Xanadu would be about either big press magnates or barbarian heroes cracking heads. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Having then looked it up, I was horrified to see Olivia Newton-John’s name topping the list. Fearing further investigation, I resolved not to read anything more about the film before attempting to watch it. No point putting myself in a more negative frame of mind, and anyway, how bad can it possibly be?
In a word: horrible. In several words: oh my fucking god please someone turn this woeful shit off and find those responsible for it and hang them upside down until their heads explode. This abortion of a film marks the great Gene Kelly’s final appearance on screen, and it’s a tragedy that a career as glittering as his should end on this abomination. Literally nothing works here, not a damned thing and watching it is genuinely one of the more difficult films to make it to the end of that I’ve seen. Seriously, I had three attempts at it, before eventually manning up and pushing through. This is a disgrace to celluloid. Annoyingly, I’ve been researching it to write this review, and it’s become something of a gay cult classic. Even meriting a full DVD release, and a broadway musical adaptation!
This is the “plot” of Xanadu: Kira (Olivia Newton-John), is either a muse or a human mood ring (I’m not sure). She comes alive from a Venice Beach wall mural (really, WTF?) and starts interfering in Sonny Malone’s life (Michael Beck- who incidentally blames Xanadu for killing his career: “The Warriors opened a lot of doors that Xanadu then closed”). He’s allegedly a great artist in the making, but makes his living from painting Album Covers. Anyhoo, no sooner can you say “Stop it you weird stalker” than he’s made friends with Gene Kelly’s Danny and talked him into opening up a club that they name Xanadu. Why Xanadu? Well, because Kira, being a muse, turns up and starts reciting Coleridge. In the meantime, she falls in love with Sonny, who loves her back. However, Zues recalls her forcing Beck to build up speed on his fucking roller skates and head full tilt towards a brick wall. Sadly, it doesn’t splatter his brains all over it, instead he jumps through the wall into the set of Tron where he pleads with Zeus and Hera to allow Kira to return to Earth. Anyhow, the film ends with Xanadu being opened and Kira and Michael together. Christ, what an awful load of shit.
Actually, the plot, as drippy and hackneyed as it is, doesn’t really explain why this film is so fucking awful. There’s much, much more to take into account. Firstly, the acting here is diabolically wretched. Olivia Newton-John is a fucking terrible actress, and I really don’t get her sex appeal. Secondly, Beck (who looks suspiciously like Dark Overlord Bay here) wanders through the film in a semi-concussed state. Kelly, who really does take a load in this film, at least performs with some charm and a twinkle in his eye, but he’s fucked too- this is a film that has him dressed in an electric pink zoot suit dancing inside a giant fucking pinball machine. On Roller Skates. Nobody could come out of this with their dignity intact.
To be fair to our intrepid trio of actors, I’m not convinced that anyone could do a good job with this script. Someone was aware that it was looking ropy so the script had more hands than the human centipede dipped in it. This really shows in the dialogue, with Olivia Newton John and Beck lumbered with some truly awful exchanges such as this:
Kira: “You’re supposed to be an artist. Use your imagination.”
Sonny: “Oh thanks a lot; I’m all out.”
This is actually pretty indicative of the level of writing in this film. It’s a terrible script and to be honest, I actually feel a little bit sorry for all the actors attempting to jam emotion into it. Well, apart from Beck, who obviously isn’t trying. I can’t say I blame him actually.
Then there’s the music. I never liked ELO, always believing that they were shit, and Xanadu confirms this. Half the musical numbers here are their fault, including (I bet) the big “Xanadu” number at the end. The other half are the Aussie warbler (although she was born here, she was raised in Australia, so she’s their fault) and really, she is one of the most painfully awful singers ever to crack their vocal cords. I really, really, really don’t get the appeal of this dreadful woman. Some of these songs defy description they’re so awful: notably Xanadu itself, Poor old Kelly’s big band reminiscing (this is a hideously clunky scene anyway), and the agonising, humiliating, mish-mash of big band and 80’s synth rock performed in the derelict shell that will eventually become Xanadu. Astonishingly, proving once and for all that when it comes to music, the 80’s is the decade that taste forgot, Olivia Newton-John had a fucking massive hit with “Magic” one of the many, many painfully awful tunes in this film.
At least they could fall back on excellent choreography though, so it is just as well that it’s of the same hgh standard as everything else in the film. I know next to nothing about this, but Mrs. Jarv knows a lot and assures me that I’m not wrong. It’s awful. Astonishingly, unforgivably bad. Almost every other dance scene is done on roller skates (which is every bit as kitsch as it sounds) and those that aren’t are still awful. The first scene actually has blue-tinged muses dancing to utter shit. I felt like I was watching Pan’s People for a moment and was trapped in some kind of hideous flashback where Top of the Pops was still required watching. For those non-Brits out there, this is Pan’s People. Shameful. I’m not sure which is the worst routine, but I think I do have to go for the aforementioned Pinball machine, although the finale does at least run it close.
Where was I, oh yes. So far, in case I’m not being particularly clear, this is a terrible film for myriad reasons. However, I’m still not done yet. Just for a moment, I’d like to talk about the “effects”. Leaving aside the crappy Tron effects, and the weird glowing people, there are two points of note. Firstly, every scene has some kind of ridiculous and overblown transition effect. I don’t know what these are called, but one of them is straight out of the 1960’s Batman series. Where it was cool. Here it’s not. These become extremely annoying after a while. Well, by the second one. Secondly, Disney renegade Don Bluth was roped in to do an animation sequence (why? Why? WHY? Is there anything in this film that isn’t shit?) so there’s a big Disney-style animated number with Beck and Newton-John proclaiming their love to each other while turning into fish and birds and whatnot. This is every bit as awful as it sounds.
Overall, in case you haven’t noticed, this is a truly terrible film. It’s so bad and such a misconceived mess that I can’t believe anyone thought it was a good idea in the first place. Occasionally these sort of clusterfucks make it into “so bad it’s good” territory, but this one straps on its roller skates and shoots straight through that pleasant place and into “so bad it’s actually boring, humiliating shite” land. Which is far less pleasant, although house prices are significantly cheaper. While watching this hideous dreck, I was wishing that someone would beat me to death with a pet rock to end the pain, and plotting evil retribution on everyone involved in it. The only way I could make it to the end was by consuming hideous amounts of beer, and as a result I have a crushing headache and feel truly, truly rotten this morning. I blame Xanadu for this. In terms of rating, any film with Olivia Newton-John is going to struggle to get a decent rating from me. However, having sat through the horror of this rubbish, I’m giving it a completely honest and thoroughly deserved Orangutan of Doom. This is legitimately one of the worst films ever made and an endurance trial to sit through. There’s not even any skin to break the endless cycle of roller skate/ terrible music induced pain. It’s a sad fact that this drivel was Gene Kelly’s final film, and this makes me feel truly sorry that such a legendary career ended on such a low note. Paticularly given the humiliating hoops they have the old trouper jump through. Keeping in the spirit of the film though, I’ve given our favourite ape an electric blue (because he’s sad) mood aura against a shitty background. He’s now the Discorangutan of Doom.
In case anyone thinks I’m lying about how awful this film is here is the opening sequence.
Next up is another undeniable classic: it’s John Landis’ superb American Werewolf in London: the film that features the finest werewolf transformation ever filmed and one that still holds up today.
Until next time,
The full list in this series:
- 1978 – The Driver (3 out of 4)
- 1979 – Life of Brian (4 out of 4)
- 1980 –Xanadu
- 1981 – An American Werewolf in London
- 1982 – Class of 1984
- 1983 – Fire and Ice
- 1984 – Cal
- 1985 – Teen Wolf
- 1986 –Reform School Girls
- 1987 – Dirty Dancing
- 1988 – Married to the Mob
- 1989 – Millennium
- 1990 – Darkman
- 1991 – Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man
- 1992 – Christopher Columbus: The Discovery(TBC)
- 1993 – Hard Target
- 1994 – Natural Born Killers
- 1995 – Desperado
- 1996 – Freeway
- 1997 – Mimic
- 1998 – Blade
- 1999 – Teaching Mrs. Tingle
- 2000 – Bring it On
- 2001 – Heartbreakers
- 2002 – Simone
- 2003 – My Boss’s Daughter
- 2004 – Exorcist: The beginning
- 2005 – The Cave
- 2006 – Invincible
- 2007 – War
- 2008 – Death Race
- 2009 – Der Baader Meinhof Komplex
- 2010 – Piranha 3D
- 2011 – Conan the Barbarian