Friday, March 7, 2008

"Open your eyes and fear the magic"

Okay, so the trailer for Xanadu (1980) actually said "hear the magic," but I swear it sounded like it said "fear."

Xanadu featured in one of my favorite Onion stories of all time (along with the article on '50s suburbia headlined "Ant-like Conformity Now Affordable"): "Aging Gen-Xer Doesn't Find Bad Movies Funny Anymore." (You can read it at

I first saw Xanadu in the theatre when it originally came out. On a date, no less. I thought it was the worst movie I had ever seen. In fact, I wanted the people who made it to burn for their cinematic sins. Now that the intervening years have passed, I was curious if I'd still find it bad, bad, irredeemably bad, or if it would cross over into so-bad-it's-good. My verdict is: still pretty bad, but somehow charming in its clueless ineptitude.

The story is about a Muse who comes to earth in order to inspire a struggling, dejected painter and a retired clarinet player a roller disco nightclub. Hey, what about their painting and their music? Never mind. Times have changed, people.

Among the highlights: Olivia Newton-John performs embarrassing hand gestures, bathed in the cheesiest neon-aura effects you'll ever see. (That's the kind of thing where the charm comes in. Awwww...that was cutting-edge computer technology! Isn't it adorable?) The Warriors' tough guy Michael Beck gets to model the Annie Hall fashion styles that the ladies used to wear. There is interminable roller skating and tap dancing, and at least one ballad (also neon-bathed) that I had to fast forward through.

When the club opens, the film turns into a crazy montage of musical styles, featuring different groups of dancers and skaters, who wear different matching costumes. The first we see is a bunch of guys in mime face. Of course, one of the infamous hallmarks of The Warriors is that all the gangs dress in matching, stylized costumery, and there was in fact a mime gang, called the High-Hats. So that got us going, and then when we got the Zoot Suiters, and a group of girls in tiger-print Spandex (the Tigresses?), we decided that they should have made Warriors 2: Xanadu. That would have been a much better movie.

This does prove, however, that Flashdance can't be held responsible for all that leg-warmer silliness, since they are on prominent display here, three years earlier.

So, yes, my attitude toward Xanadu has in fact mellowed. I couldn't help but think, though, that people will watch this DVD and think it actually says something about the young people of the time: our styles, our attitudes, our musical taste. No! Absolutely not! This kind of thing was inflicted upon me, and at the time, I despised everything I felt it represented. I will not be held for responsible for it.

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