The Xanadu Story
November 14, 2011 5:56 PM   Subscribe

Regardless of the outcomes and foreshadowing, the lethal combination of the sudden musical revival and the roller disco fad that was freshly in the cultural air in the late 70’s was still too good to pass up. It was only inevitable that someone somewhere would make the explosive connection….and at this intersection, Xanadu would happen...

Olivia Newton John performs the title song. (spoiler, I guess)
posted by Trurl (55 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 

I've spoken about my love affair with OLN and Xanadu before.

It's actually not a bad movie as they go, except that the leading man was such a repugnant doofus.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:09 PM on November 14, 2011


My wife ADORES Xanadu, and I have to say, I stay in the room when she watches it. It's kind of 1/3 charming nostalgia, 1/3 cheez-e music, 1/3 train wreck, and I like all three thirds. Plus, Gene Kelly, who is miles above the material, but he seems to be having fun with it.
posted by Huck500 at 6:15 PM on November 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


I realize I have no real perspective insofar as I was there at the time, quitting university, making decent money for the first time in my life, dropping lots of acid, opening my mind and my body to the big wide ugly-beautiful world.

But Xanadu, you could smell from a great distance -- I ran the other way as fast I possibly f***ing could.
posted by philip-random at 6:16 PM on November 14, 2011


In the late 70's, I was a teenager and a big ELO fan. I also had a huge crush on a girl who was a big ONJ fan.

Come 1980, and when I finally summoned up the courage to ask her out, this was the least-gay movie we could agree on. Not that that fact helped me at all.

I saw it on TV a little while ago, and was kind of comforted to know that it's one of the few things that has stood the test of time less well than I have ;-)
posted by Pinback at 6:17 PM on November 14, 2011


"the leading man was such a repugnant doofus."

It was thru Xanadu (which I love unashamedly by the way) and specifically Michael Beck's character in Xanadu that I learned about "the informed attribute."

From the above link: The "informed" series of tropes refer to personality quirks that are frequently alluded to by other characters, but for which the viewer sees no actual evidence.

The characters that inhabit the sunny SoCal paradise of Xanadu live in a world where Sonny Malone is an irresistible lady killer (and not, in fact, a sorta creepy looking hunk of balsa wood) and a large portion of their dialogue is devoted to convincing us of this "fact."
posted by Senor Cardgage at 6:18 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Continuing the io9 love-in, X also grabbed the top slot in the ten most godawful movies about Greek mythology piece.

Some great ELO tracks on that album, though. I special ordered it in on vinyl at the local record shop back in the day.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:20 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let's get some videos up in this piece since Xanadu ultimately lives and dies by its brilliant musical set-pieces.

This is one of the most innovative right here.
As Beck and Kelly explain their different—and seemingly opposing—views of how the club's music should be programmed (should it be Big Band or New Wave? such an 80s question) the two musical styles manifest themselves and play off each other until ulimately fusing together in one big glammy cross-decade jam

"Dancin'" (featuring Fee Waybill and The Tubes, no less)

This is a really impressive number, with some insane costuming.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 6:25 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Let's get some videos up in this piece since Xanadu ultimately lives and dies by its brilliant musical set-pieces.

I was surprised to see some popping-and-locking at 0:47 in the "title song" link. This was two years before the breakdancing interlude in Flashdance.
posted by Trurl at 6:29 PM on November 14, 2011


furthering my non-enthusiasm for Xanadu (then and now), I too was a big ELO fan ... until Xanadu. Or more to the point, Xanadu was the final straw. So very far away from ...

As for Ms. Newton-John, we called her Olivia Neutron Bomb. Her voice destroyed all life, left the buildings unscathed.
posted by philip-random at 6:29 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Word has it that they wrapped filming and the producer noticed one thing right off: How can you have an Olivia Newton John / Gene Kelly movie and not have the two dance or sing together at any point in the flick?

To remedy this, they cooked up the quasi-flashback scene to "Whenever Youre Away From Me" where (again like in the clip above) the Big Band era melts into the present through song. Or possibly vice versa.
For a band-aid solution to the Kelly/Newton-John problem, it works really, really well and it's one of my favorite songs from the soundtrack. Plus it's great just to see Kelly dance.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 6:30 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, Michael Beck was Swan in The Warriors - so a little respect please.
posted by Trurl at 6:31 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Swan! One of those moments you can suddenly see it so clearly.

The characters that inhabit the sunny SoCal paradise of Xanadu live in a world where Sonny Malone is an irresistible lady killer

It's been awhile, but wasn't it just the one muse/OLJ? Who, having just spent however long in a mural, kisses the first thing on rollerskates she sees.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:36 PM on November 14, 2011


I have no idea why they become cartoon fish or whatever in the clip for "Don't Walk Away" beside the fact that it was the 1970s and that's just something that would happen when you made a movie and cocaine and disco and Don Bluth and so forth.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 6:37 PM on November 14, 2011


It's been awhile, but wasn't it just the one muse/OLJ? Who, having just spent however long in a mural, kisses the first thing on rollerskates she sees.


Naw dude. The other characters say things like "Is this the same Sonny Malone that drives women crazy?" and constnatly try to get him to date their daughters and friends of theirs and refer to "the old Sonny Malone charm" and stuff.
It is very much installed in this world that Michael Beck is a stud.
A big old wooden, rhythmless stud that's juuuuust on the outskirts of Not Quite Handsome where it meets up with Willem Dafoe Ridge.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 6:40 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let's not forget the real star of Xanadu, the Pan Pacific Auditorium.
posted by eschatfische at 6:41 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Olivia Newton John -- when she was good.
ELO -- when they were great.



I'll shut up now.
posted by philip-random at 6:42 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Naw dude. The other characters say things like "Is this the same Sonny Malone that drives women crazy?" and constnatly try to get him to date their daughters and friends of theirs and refer to "the old Sonny Malone charm" and stuff.

Oh god, yeah...

So very far away from ...

Well, nobody said it was their masterwork. But count me a fan of "Alive", "The Fall", and "All Over the World". I'm fond of OLJ's "Magic", too.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:44 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Naw dude. The other characters say things like "Is this the same Sonny Malone that drives women crazy?" and constnatly try to get him to date their daughters and friends of theirs and refer to "the old Sonny Malone charm" and stuff.
It is very much installed in this world that Michael Beck is a stud.


Perhaps they had just all seen The Warriors and knew how truly sexy he really was.
posted by dng at 6:45 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


My husband and I watched Roller Boogie last night (after getting home from an abysmal '80s skate night.) If you think Xanadu is bad, well .....

(anyone know if there are Skatetown USA torrents? Might as well see all the bad roller disco movies.)
posted by vespabelle at 6:46 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Youtube has a pretty in-depth 3-part documentary on Xanadu made in 2008 for the DVD release.

One | Two | Three
posted by Senor Cardgage at 6:46 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I spend my whole life paintin' what other people want. I paint his van... I paint somebody else's mural...I paint Simpson's album covers. Then when I finally quit to freelance not only do I almost starve to death but I can't figure out what I wanna do.

My musician friends and I died laughing rewinding that bit of naiveté on Sunny's part concerning the meaning of "freelance".
posted by sourwookie at 6:47 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Olivia Newton-John: when she, too, was great.

(If greatness is defined in terms of projecting a kind of beauty that never exceeds cuteness, an attractiveness that stops just shy of sexuality, a kind of talent that wins contests without showing up the competition, and a wholesomeness that squeaks more than a Wyoming weather vane.)
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:50 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


an attractiveness that stops just shy of sexuality

Says you. I quote Robert Christgau:

Any heterosexual man who can deny "Physical," with its detonating blonde bombshell switching off from "physical" to "animal" for the grand finale, needs his monkey-gland shot
posted by Trurl at 6:53 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Here we go. Poor image quality, and ze cheese de la resistance as far as this movie goes.

Still, 9-year-old me? Utterly charmed.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:54 PM on November 14, 2011


(anyone know if there are Skatetown USA torrents? Might as well see all the bad roller disco movies.)


There are, but they are all made from the same crappy print and you really have to want to watch it. It was never released on video in any format so that's just what we have to work with.

Of all three of the roller disco cash-in flicks, I find Skatetown to be the most fascinating. Most movies, even exploitation flicks usually aim for a certain high-water level of quality that can have an unintended effect of washing out a lot of the specific attitude of the time in which it was shot.
What makes Skatetown such a fascinating artifact is that it really is just a grab bag of disjointed late 70s Southern California ...crap. There's barely a story at all. There are nostalgic 50's blink-or-youll-miss-it cameos for no particular reason at all, there are Gong Show regulars, there's most of the mid-to-late 70s Teen Heartthrob stable in display (has any living person ever looked as much like a living Ken doll as Vince Van Patten did in this flick? right down the the hot pink tank top!) and there's even Ruth Buzzi. Ruth! Buzzi!
Horseshack! Marcia Brady! Chachi! The Unknown Comic!

So essentially you find yourself with something much more "of the moment" than another film which might have reigned things in to keep from seeming dated 6 months later.

And of course, there is a badass...er..roller skate gang led by The Swayze (doing all his own awesome skating too)

"The" and "Swayze" are each video links btw.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 6:58 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


philip-random: "ELO -- when they were great"

Original greatness.

(Seriously, these days I think that's the best song they ever did.)
posted by Pinback at 6:59 PM on November 14, 2011


Christgau, her champion: "she's sexier than Barbara Mandrell for damn sure."

Perhaps, he might have added, even sexier than Donna Pescow.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:59 PM on November 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


From an IMDB review: Filming started on "Xanadu" with no script. All that existed was an 18-page treatment (plot summary) and an overarching theme: The Big Band Era meets the 80s Rock Era.

Yep.
posted by sourwookie at 6:59 PM on November 14, 2011


Easly my favorite spoiler warning ever.

And Huck500, your division of thirds (and especially your liking of all three) makes me want to request a new contact category for Metafilter of "just plain gets it", so I can add you to it.

On preview, I'd have to add dng for pointing out the The Warriors. I can't believe I never made the connection that the same guy was in two different movies that, in two very different ways, had such an obvious affect in shaping my identity (read: turning me super gay)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:59 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


It also might surprise you to find out what director Robert Greenwald has been up to since Xanadu.

After Steal This Movie!, Greenwald turned toward making issues-oriented documentary films, and he executive-produced three political documentaries known as "The Un Trilogy": Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election (2002); Uncovered: The Whole Truth About The Iraq War (2003), which Greenwald also directed; and Unconstitutional: The War on Our Civil Liberties.
Greenwald is the founder of Brave New Films, a liberal[12] media company that has published documentary films such as Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism (2004), Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers (2006), The Big Buy: Tom Delay's Stolen Congress, and Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. Greenwald's approach has been to adapt the principles of guerrilla filmmaking to political documentaries, using small budgets and short shooting schedules to produce films[3] and then distributing them on DVDs or the Internet in affiliation with politically sympathetic groups such as MoveOn.org.[3]
[edit]

posted by Senor Cardgage at 7:00 PM on November 14, 2011


The problem with Xanadu is that about half the movie was really great (music, choreography, sets, Gene Kelly, ONJ) and half was ultrashite (cinematography, Michael Beck, plot, script). I maintain that if they'd got a real cinematographer and just turned the thing into a 45 minute ELO/ONJ music video, we could go back in time and save the Pan Pacific Auditorium and there would to this day still be roller dancing, cream sodas and spandex galore.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:05 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also we cant forget the ultra-colorful musical number set to "All Over The World" shot in classic "Hey Gang! Let's Try On New Clothes" montage style.

My understanding is that this was filmed at famed Beverly Hills boutique Fiorucci.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 7:12 PM on November 14, 2011


God I love Gene Kelly.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:16 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Come 1980, and when I finally summoned up the courage to ask her out, this was the least-gay movie we could agree on. Not that that fact helped me at all.

Um..I don't think I get why non-gayness was a determining factor. Unless you're actually using "gay" to mean "terrible or stupid" which would not be cool.
posted by emjaybee at 7:16 PM on November 14, 2011


if they'd got a real cinematographer and just turned the thing into a 45 minute ELO/ONJ music video, we could go back in time and save the Pan Pacific Auditorium and there would to this day still be roller dancing, cream sodas and spandex galore.

Something just shot straight up to #1 on my "what do with a TARDIS" list.

Speaking of Doctor Who, when "Love and Monsters" aired in the second series of the show's return, I couldn't believe there was something ELO-filled that I was going to spend more of my time defending than Xanadu. And yet...
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:19 PM on November 14, 2011


Um..I don't think I get why non-gayness was a determining factor. Unless you're actually using "gay" to mean "terrible or stupid" which would not be cool.


It came down to this, Can't Stop the Music and Cruising.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 7:19 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I remember Xanadu being in constant heavy rotation on HBO in the summer of '82 when I was 6. The random clips I saw never made any sense to me at the time, but since it was on 5 times a day, I couldn't avoid it. I did try to give it a chance, as I just saw Michael Beck in probably the best movie that summer for a six-year-old that wasn't Star Trek II- Megaforce. As ridiculous and embarrassingly awful as that movie is, it inspired me to mount Estes rockets on the front of my dirt bike, and makes me a happy and dangerous six-year-old again each time I see it. So he can crank the ELO and spin around in some kind of greek mythological disco schlong roller-dancing inter-dimensional love story or whatever, Michael Beck gets a pass for life from me and my once incredibly illegal and unsafe motorcycle.
posted by chambers at 7:31 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wasn't it the last movie that Gene Kelly danced in?

Frankly, I didn't think it was all that bad, and it's worth watching for Kelly -- who was always outstanding.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:32 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yup, pretty much what Senor Cardgage said. Remember, that was from the perspective of a 13-year-old boy getting interested in girls in 1980.

In any case, I'm fine with not being cool. Let's just accept that people's vocabulary differs in both time and space, and not turn this cheesefest into a pile-on about attitudes towards sexuality.
posted by Pinback at 7:33 PM on November 14, 2011


To this day, if I'm flipping through the channels and Xanadu is on TBS, I'm stopping to watch.
posted by COD at 7:41 PM on November 14, 2011


I read each word of the post in mortal terror that it would be about a Xanadu remake. Probably directed by someone vile like Joel Schumaker.

I am so thankful it was not.
posted by munchingzombie at 7:50 PM on November 14, 2011


From the director of Batman Forever
And the producer of Transformers and Transformers: Dark of the Moon

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Adapted by M. Night Shyamalan
Based on characters created by Richard Christian Danus and Marc Reid Rubel

With
Paris Hilton as Kira
Keanu Reeves as Sonny

and starring

Steve Buscemi
as
Danny McGuire

posted by Pinback at 8:13 PM on November 14, 2011 [13 favorites]


I pretty much watched Xanadu every time it came on HBO in the 80s. Every. Single. Time. I was not by any means an ELO fan, nor was I much of an ONJ fan, but man oh man, I love me some roller skating.

Of all three of the roller disco cash-in flicks, I find Skatetown to be the most fascinating. Most movies, even exploitation flicks usually aim for a certain high-water level of quality that can have an unintended effect of washing out a lot of the specific attitude of the time in which it was shot. What makes Skatetown such a fascinating artifact is that it really is just a grab bag of disjointed late 70s Southern California ...crap. There's barely a story at all.

I finally got to see this movie this summer after years of seeing the trailer, thanks to the Brattle Theatre. Story, schmory. It's got the SWAYZE, on ROLLER SKATES. And disco (which is why it will never, ever, be released on any video). Oh, and an odd cameo by Dorothy Stratten.


Yes, I love roller skating movies, why do you ask?
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:56 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bah. It's a cheesy movie, but thankfully it has Gene Kelly winking his way through it going "yeah, it's cheesy, but man, I get to dance!" And at the time I thought ONJ was pretty much the best thing in the world.

I own it on DVD.
posted by mephron at 10:20 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Perhaps they had just all seen The Warriors and knew how truly sexy he really was.

Xaaaannnnaaaaaaduuuuuuu..... come out an' playyyyy-ayyyyyy!
posted by codswallop at 2:00 AM on November 15, 2011


Oh wow - I saw Xanadu as a double with Grease at the local cinema when they first came out here in Australia. I haven't been the same since...
posted by ninazer0 at 2:13 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh hell yes Xanadu. I can't tell you how important this film was to me, a pudgy 10-year-old growing up in a north-Florida hell of Baptist churches and fish camps. One-lane highways, mattress barns, "A Touch of Mink" trailer park. Low-slung, sullen ranch houses sulking in the heat on their sandspurred lots.

Thanks to her roller skating talent, Olivia Newton John in her Xanadu incarnation even briefly managed to unseat Leather Tuscadero as my personal style icon, and I showed up to that summer's watermelon-eating contest at the rapidly evaporating public swimming hole dressed as much like her as I could. With my Pic-n-Save gold vinyl windbreaker, “roller disco” glitter t-shirt, and red bandana tied around my forehead, I imagined that I looked gritty, urban; not from around here. In spite of this, a fat lady at a picnic table pinched my cheek and called me her “little redneck.”

I was surrounded by Philistines, obviously, but Xanadu and the poured-concrete floor in the garage were my ticket out, the things that would one day soon irrevocably yank me from the rotten mouth of my hometown. I'd skate for hours in the clicking heat of silent July, imagining the looks on the faces of the people I'd invite to my show once I perfected my one-legged-backwards skate. My babysitter, that guy from the convenience store, and the stranger, lured to the countryside by rumors of a legendary talent. They'd sit, open-mouthed and amazed, as I glided by in my red satin short-shorts and braided gold and silver headband. You better believe I was magic.

Later that summer my dad's earthworm farm collapsed and, desperate for money, he permanently closed up the garage and forbade me to go in there. I didn't know at the time what he was doing behind that tin-foil-covered window, but I did know that my one place to roller skate was now off limits. I listened to the Xanadu soundtrack over and over on his big puffy headphones with the curly cord, though, and that sustained me until my mother announced we were leaving and shuffled me off to a pasteboard "garden apartment" near the military base in town. There I eventually discovered the Sex Pistols and abandoned for a while, but never really and truly, never in MY HEART, if you know what I'm saying, the feeling of hope and possibility that movement, even highly circumscribed movement, can give you. Just 10-year-old you in this little bubble of imagined light and sound and motion, skating in eternal circles, on the way somewhere that wasn't here.

Xanadu; oh hell yes.
posted by staggering termagant at 7:04 AM on November 15, 2011 [11 favorites]


The Olivia Newton-John hate -- well, there are so many other worthwhile people in the world to hate on. She fizzled out in the States after the Physical monolith (about 30 years ago almost to the month), but her presence lives on in Dollar Stores and doctors' offices everywhere. "If You Love Me (Let Me Know)," "If Not for You," "Magic," "Heart Attack" ..... yes!
posted by blucevalo at 8:26 AM on November 15, 2011


have u nevar been mello?
posted by Senor Cardgage at 8:43 AM on November 15, 2011


Trurl: Also, Michael Beck was Swan in The Warriors - so a little respect please.

As Beck himself is quoted as saying, "The Warriors opened a lot of doors in film for me, which Xanadu then closed."

Plus, I think "Megaforce+Xanadu" > "The Warriors". Although that symbol could be flipped either way and have the same meaning.
posted by hanov3r at 10:47 AM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I loved this movie. It's also worth adding that without this film, the 80's wouldn't have had ribbon barrettes and would have been subsequently way less awesome for tween girls.
posted by Mchelly at 11:16 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


OK, I rewatched the DVD.

I'm too hard on Sonny. The problem is that although the script is weak - and it leaves all sorts of good questions unanswered - he is unable to improve on it. Gene and Olivia manage to build on some pretty weak lines, but he fails to deliver.

But, it is easy criticism to say that Michael Beck didn't have the chops. Maybe it's the fault of direction, but given that the rest of the movie largely works, I think its just a lack of ability.

Also, the lack of dancing skill is forgivable in ONJ - she's cute as button - but he manages to be totally uncharismatic as a dancer.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:17 PM on November 15, 2011


ONJ + NWA = Compton Magic (nsfw lyrics)
posted by CyberSlug Labs at 1:41 PM on November 16, 2011


Xaaaannnnaaaaaaduuuuuuu..... come out an' playyyyy-ayyyyyy!

Oh, look! It's post-ironic Disco Stu! You still trying to bring it back?

Damn. He brought it back.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:45 PM on November 16, 2011


This post could use the "Xanadu" tag.

Oh, look, it's streaming at Netflix.

*hits play*
posted by Pronoiac at 6:09 PM on November 18, 2011


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