Xanadu ★★

I hope the pitch meeting went like this:

Guy slaps down the (not very thick) script and says "Olivia Newton John: Xanadu."
Producer goes: "I'm listening. What's her character?"
"She's a muse."
"She's amused?"
"And she's sort of in this muse-triangle thing with two guys."
"Yeah? Who plays the two guys?"
"I'm thinking one of them is the guy who was in THE WARRIORS, and the other is Gene Kelly..."
"Like, 68 year-old Gene Kelly?"
"Yes, and there's animation. And roller skating."

Hindsight clues us in that lots of so-called box office bombs get that label for reasons unrelated to their actual quality; bad timing, misunderstood or underappreciated aesthetic choices, ahead-of-their-time-ness, et cetera. Of course, there are others that earn every bit of the derision associated with merely saying their name, and after seeing it for the first time, I guess XANADU fits into the second group, though I'm less inclined to trash it and more inclined to admire the sheer unlikeliness that the film exists.

Post-GREASE, I'm sure it wasn't hard to get studio approval for a musical starring Olivia Newton-John, but this story is just plain weird. Michael Beck plays Sonny, a frustrated visual artist who left a record company job painting giant album covers used in promotional displays so that he could do his own, non-corporate painting and drawing thing. It's entirely unclear what sort of path to prominence Sonny is looking to hit. I mean, there was only one Andy Warhol and only one Patrick Nagel. Perhaps in recognition of that, Sonny shreds his latest drawing and throws the tatters out the window, where they

If nothing else the film's an interesting time capsule as to what a bunch of people thought American popular music and culture might look like into the 1980s, with the While GREASE was all about backward-looking nostalgia and SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER documented a particular moment in dance culture XANADU's built on prognostications of culture fusions that turned out to be just plani wrong.

It's also comical to see the film's miscalculation of the role that roller-skating would play in culture. You don't get to see too much of Kelly dancing--just a bit of waltzing (I think?) with ONJ, though if you'd always wanted to see him roller skate, well, this is the film for you.

The film's off-base guess as to what rollerskating would mean to '80s culture is only half the fun. , and a bizarre There's a memorable scene when Sonny and Danny (Kelly's character) are each visualizing the club, and