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STRANGE FASCINATION OF 'XANADU' OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN

Title: XANADU Year: 1980 Rating: ***

It was almost the end of Disco but everyone was rollerskating. Hell, even the gods. Or in this particular case, a goddess in the form of GREASE starlet Olivia Newton-John as Kira, one of the many daughters of Zeus and a song and dance muse throughout the ages... 

Especially from the Twentieth Century 40's/50's, when she used to help a now wandering bum who is a secret millionaire and semi-retired construction mogul Gene Kelly as Danny McGuire, and she now has her eyes or, rather, lips on one dreamer in particular...

Michael Beck in XANADU

Enter our buried lead, a talented yet stubborn and thoroughly disgruntled rollerskating painter of murals to promote record albums... the ones you'd see facing outside locations known as Record Stores way back when... played by an actor who starred in executive producer Lawrence Gordon's gritty urban classic THE WARRIORS a year earlier... still one of the coolest, kickass cult flicks ever... and without the tough urban gear, Michael Beck takes a backseat only in the opening credits, following the classic UNIVERSAL PICTURES logo with the plane rounding the globe... 

For his name appears right after the movie's title, before which the name of the GREASE starlet, following-up on the beloved musical and an attempt to bring the magic of second star Gene Kelly back to life: awkwardly resurrecting a young person's job, the hardest talent to sustain because, after all, dancers are basically a combination of artists and stuntmen...

Michael Beck in XANADU with Gene Kelly

Yet at the same time, acting-wise, Kelly is a cool cat with a great, gritty voice as a believable dreamer who once "had almost everything," taking an, at first, laid-back mentorship with Beck's Sonny Malone, whose life is changed when suddenly kissed by a beautiful blonde on rollerskates, who just happens to be the cover of an album that he, Sonny, is about to paint to grand scale. But no one seems to know where this gorgeous human has derived... The picture was taken as she happened to skate by a set... And Gene Kelly's Danny, randomly turning up in various exterior locations till we learn the truth... 

The Mysterious Old Man knows her as well, or, knew her with another name. XANADU is, in fact, a bonafide Musical as one dreamy montage has Danny recalling a vintage Song and Dance with Mira, once his lead singer who one day just up and vanished, leaving Danny's dreams in the garbage... and as talented a singer as Newton-John is, her voice fits more the "modern" era than the Benny Goodman age...

Michael Beck in XANADU with Olivia Newton-John

So Danny ambiguously warns the young man, searching for the mysterious blonde but Kira is no mortal, also agreed upon (in reality) by the actress/singer's adoring fans, who might have been the only people who rushed to see this glorious bomb while Olivia, at first, only turns up in sporadic glimpses or singing tunes as eventually... 

And most importantly, the young and old man combine their dreams into one, planning to open the nightclub of nightclubs, reminiscent of the past "swanky joints" from the post-WW2 era to the "modern happening discoteche" only more galactic and surreal and, no matter that Danny owns a million dollar construction company, for both its opening and closure to finalize the rudimentary stages of the club's reality, only Kira's power and influence can make it all happen...

Michael Beck in XANADU with Olivia Newton-John

Most of the tracks are performed by this film's big band, much too talented for the corny vehicle's sake but also legitimizing what would have been completely horrific and pointless without them: that being soundtrack chief Jeff Lynne's ELO aka Electric Light Orchestra, grooving throughout, especially memorable as the now almost-established young couple watch Gene Kelly trying on an abundance of fancy "modern" clothes, leading too quickly to an extremely anti-climactic opening of the club that's a big hit way too soon, and more of an excuse to turn XANADU into a musical and nothing else... 

And right before that we're supposed to hang onto, after being bathed and drowned in all the dizzyingly surreal, wonderfully campy psychedelic effects and the funky music, some kinda plot-resolve, never matching the colorful backdrops catapulted by now-dated animation and one old style Disney-like cartoon sequence: that being, Sonny's impossible last-minute desperation to either turn himself into a god or make his girlfriend a mortal, which, according to (and paraphrasing from) the actor himself, Michael Beck, XANADU closed all the doors in Hollywood that THE WARRIORS opened, thus the latter would be more natural a process/transition...

Animation from XANADU

In real life, Beck vanished into a straight-to-VHS purgatory and we never did see the talented Olivia too much following an unconnected and banal (yet entertaining, somehow) GREASE reunion with John Travolta called TWO OF A KIND  along with a few hit songs, after which, that was that, mostly blamed on XANADU, as according to the famous legend: this was a Palace that begun with all the potential in the world only to be... not destroyed, but left undone, entirely...

Meanwhile, the cinematic catastrophe didn't touch Gene Kelly's laurels that he'd been resting on between smaller gigs. Like mentioned earlier, his acting is quite good, and often brings Beck's rather lackluster turn (as if he knows what's happening to his career) to life... 

Olivia Newton-John in XANADU

Especially during a sort of imaginary dual as both stand inside the ruins of the possible club site, seeing their own version of its future: Kelly envisioning stuff from his old movies (along with zesty Zoot Suit acts) while Danny brings a "Six guys wearing electric orange" heavy metal band to life, all on the same stage with Mira appearing randomly. Pure Awful Overlong Genius, and even some Air Guitar to boot!

Then, alas, the very ending is way too long, including, after Sonny fails to bring Kira back home, this movie's version of "Hopelessly Devoted," followed by an Opening Night roller-circle that, after hand-clapping that goes on for another eternity, we finally reach the popular title song, a wonderfully dated collaboration of Olivia and Jeff Lynne, bringing all the glamour back down to Earth where our couple belongs. And while, yes, it's very true, the film is quite god-awful (pun intended); like all Guilty Pleasures, you'll be saying that to yourself after viewing it again and again, and again... For one thing is plain and clear: this is a bonafide beloved cult film... even while being made. 

Olivia Newton-John in XANADU
Michael Beck in XANADU with Gene Kelly
Michael Beck in XANADU with Olivia Newton-John
Michael Beck in XANADU with Olivia Newton-John
Michael Beck in XANADU with Olivia Newton-John
Olivia Newton-John in XANADU
Olivia Newton-John in XANADU
Michael Beck in XANADU with Olivia Newton-John
XANADU with Olivia Newton-John
Michael Beck in XANADU with Olivia Newton-John

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