The Razzie Awards, which are given annually to the year’s worst films, were created after John J.B. Wilson, the creator of the awards, had seen Xanadu, a huge financial and critical flop that pretty much ended any prospects of a solo acting career for Olivia Newton-John. Since its release, it has become a cult favorite among audiences. This is not a surprise given that one condition for attaining cult status is that a film be a piece of shit. However, another unofficial rule for cult status is that a film have a certain pop culture, hokiness to it that appeals to a sub-culture type of audience. The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure come to mind when I think of perfect cult status films. They are classic examples of films that don’t take themselves seriously (intentionally or unintentionally) and they reflect the pop culture of the time. Xanadu has all this and although its not a good film by any means (its horrible in fact), its a fun film that contains classic, awesome moments.

Story. What story? According to Olivia Newton-John, the script was being written as it was shot. Besides, the plot is not important for a film like this, but if you must know its about a muse (Olivia Newton-John) who is sent by Zeus to inspire a album-cover painter and an old man to realize their dreams. Seriously. For what the filmmakers were aiming for, the plot isn’t very important. Based on what you see, apparently good acting wasn’t important either. Olivia Newton-John does an impressive job acting like a dim lightbulb and the lines the actors have to deliver seem to be lifted straight from the old Afterschool Specials. However, the film’s appeal really lies in the music, the dance sequences, the time period, Olivia, and Gene Kelly.

Arguably and what most people who like the film will tell you, the music is really what makes the film successful. Olivia Newton-John was riding a monumental success with Grease and her musical career. For Xanadu, she teamed up with ELO, the symphonic rock group that for me will forever be associated with florescent lighting and day-glo. The soundtrack this team created for the film is pure early 80s gold. Not surprisingly, despite the film’s financial disappointment, the soundtrack was a huge commercial success. I listen to many alternative rock bands today that were inspired by groups such as ELO and others from the late 70s/early 80s (i.e. The Killers) and its nice to hear the similarities between the music then and the songs you hear today. Some may find Xanadu as nothing more than a hour and a half long music video showcasing Olivia and ELO’s music. This is a valid point, but then again this is a musical and musicals are not generally known nor watched for their stories.

Of course, one cannot discuss Xanadu without mentioning the greatest actor/dancer, Gene Kelly. Sadly, this was to be his final motion picture role. However, he doesn’t end his film career without giving us a few dance sequences, one of which will make you rewind the entire scene just to watch it again. Mind you, Kelly was a 70-something year old man when he performed these sequences, one of which was on fucking roller skates! Its too bad his final film was such a huge flop, but given the remarkable career this man had and the mark he made in the musical world, I suppose that wouldn’t matter much to Gene Kelly.

One sequence worth mentioning is a short animation scene that was directed by Don Bluth. Bluth had made a name for himself at Disney as one of its supervising animators before famously leaving the Mouse House in the late 70s to start up his own animation studio. One of the first projects he worked on was the sequence in this film, which is quite charming and beautifully animated. Bluth went on to direct the classics Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, The Land Before Time, and All Dogs Go to Heaven.

Xanadu is not a good movie, but get a group of friends together and you’ll have a shitload of fun watching this. Its cheesy to no end and the acting is horrible. However, you’ll be entertained by the feathered hair, the roller skates, the music, and the whole time period. If you’re familiar with L.A. landmarks, you’ll get the added bonus of seeing the old Pan Pacific Auditorium as one of the main settings in the film (NOTE: The structure burned down in 1989).

Advertisements