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The 100




Xanadu
(1980)
Reviewed by Arno Mikli
Rating: 5 Beans

n Xanadu, did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree: where Alph ,the sacred river ran, through caverns measureless to man, down to a sunless sea.'

Poet Samuel Coleridge even gets quoted in this disappointing account of how a muse from Greek mythology did decree a stately roller-disco pleasure dome featuring hybrid 1940s/1970s music, where various movie extras skate around a sunless rink.

For Olivia Newton-John , who plays the muse in question, this film was meant to be the followup to her successful performance in "Grease". Unfortunately, this was not to be. It would also have been the source of disappointment for quite a few other persons, including Gene Kelly (this was , unfortunately, his last film) and the Electric Light Orchestra, who played a large role in the film's soundtrack.And of course, let's not forget the audience.

To see why, let us imagine that we are back in 1980 . We still remember Grease. We still love Livvy. We may have even heard a recital of the theme song, and can't wait to see it in video form. The lights dim, the mandatory series of trialers make their appearances on the big screen, and then we see the picture of a plane encircling the globe. As it evolves into more futuristic aircraft, it soon becomes evident that this is the film when the opening bars of 'Xanadu' are heard and a UFO starts encircling the globe.

Disillusioned artist Sonny Malone (Michael Beck) then appears on the screen, sketching away at some plans. In a fit of picque, he tears the plans to pieces and, being the environmentally unfriendly chap that he is, flings them out the window. They float away and we float away with them, to an alleyway where a large picture of nine young maidens can be seen. Then something odd happens. The pictures come to life and become nine young nymphettes with light purple glows. They, including of course young Livvy, briefly dance away to the tune of the ELO's 'I'm Alive' (after all, the word 'music' is derived from the word 'muse'). Then they become rays of light and disappear into the sky. Did Sonny's little tantrum cause this? If so, then remember the moral, guys. He who litters the environment can expect to become the lead character in a bad musical movie. But this reviewer is getting ahead of himself here.

We soon discover that Sonny has returned to work for his old boss, a tyrant by the name of Simpson (James Sloyan). Simpson throws Sonny some art to work on, but the art inxeplicable features a mysterious and alluring female (guess who?) who had been seen skating near him early that day before disappearing in a ray of light. No satisfactory expanantion for it can be found.

He is soon out on the streets , in the search of further clues. Initially he meets Danny Maguire (Gene Kelly) on a wharf. Then he spots the mysterious female again, but in trying to get to speak to her takes a crash dive off a pier. But never fear, he meets up with her gain, this time in a building that was featured earlier in the cover given to him by Simpson.It is an abandoned buiding called the 'Platinum Palace'.This time she is rollerskating about, and occasionally dematerialising and reappearing, whilst "Magic" is playing in the background. But how disappointing, by the time the girl disappears yet again, saying only that her name is Kiera, we get to hear only a portion of "Magic". Worse, that portion was heavily drenched with inane dialogue such as :

"You!" "Me!" "Now I've seen you three times in one day!", and later, "You come here often?"

By now, we are getting to feel as frustrated as Sonny . When's something interesting going to happen? Are all the songs going to chopped like this? ("I'm Alive" was also truncated).Oh, and when's that jerk going to remove his foot from the side of the seat here in the theatre? Oh well, at least ONJ looks great in that dress that looks like it was made from potato sacks. Perhaps they were trying to illustrate that classical saying

Sonny avoids being fired when he reports back to work. But Simpson soon makes it clear that it is customary for him to tell people to smarten up and do what he tells them to do. How mean! It's a surprise that Sonny doesn't call in a few warriors to sort it out.

Instead he does the logical thing and goes back to the Platinum Theatre. There he meets Danny yet again, and discovers that he used to play for Glenn Miller. They go off to Danny's house and discuss old times and find a certain female's face in a 1940s photo. A femme formidable indeed! It seems that she used to be in Miller's band. Sonny leaves and Danny ends up in a dream sequence (at least, this reviewer thinks it was a dream sequence) in which he get to dance with Kiera - in WW2 uniform - again. It's all nostalgic stuff for older audience members, likely to bring back memories of Judy Garland or how Gene Kelly's imagination churned out that theatrical production in "Singing in the Rain", but unfortunately likely to leave younger ones further bewildered.

The next day, Kiera shows up at work and Sonny agrees to show her the studio's range of special effects (or something). "Two might break it", he warns. "Break it carefully" , she responds. So they glide away in the studios wide range of special effects of rain, trains and soforth to the tune of "Suddenly". This time , the song gets truncated by Simpson who interrupts in customary fashion and cuts off the effects in something of a rage. "Oh S**t!" he mutters, when things start exploding. "Doh!" might have been more appropriate, but those Simpsons were still in the future. Sonny and Kiera disappear in the night, through means less paranormal than Kiera's.

The next day, Sonny and Danny meet up yet again at the Platinum Palace. They argute about the idea of creating some kind of dome dedicated to 1940s and 1970s music. Danny again unleashes his deadly imagination and we get to see 1940s singers performing alongside a (then) modern-day rock band. It's an odd little hybrid peformance indeed. What would the result have been if they had actually performed together rather than taking turns with the audience? The result would have been either atrocious or a classic, but it would've been less disappointing than what was seen. At least that jerk with the foot on the seat is gone. This one was too much for him, it seems.

We're getting pretty bored ourselves,. but not Danny, who joyfully declares that he'll do it and create it. Wait, something based on that???? Oh dear, maybe we should leave ourselves. But wait Kiera's arrived, quoting Collerige and suggesting an appropriate name for the studio. You guessed it, Xanadu. Oh, when's that song going to arrive?

Sonny is not repulsed by the idea. Indeed he is so enthused by it that he storms off to the dominating Simpson and tells him that he is quitting and that he never wants to see him again. We see the last of Simpson with his hand in some paint, muttering a certain four-letter word rhyming with pit.

Sonny celebrates this odd move in his career by joining Kiera in an unsuccessful musical cartoon, and with Danny and Kiera by shopping for 'glitz' and clothing at a shopping centre. They are joined in this musical endeavour by some dancing store dummies, while Danny looks pretty much like a dummy himself in some of the clothes that he appears in during this sequence. The choreography in this sequence is perhaps best left uncommented on.

It apparently doesn't take long to rebuild the studio. Perhaps Kiera pulled a few strings. Maybe Sonny has some generous unemployment cheques.It is a mercy on us. Luckily someone's bought some coffee to keep us up on this endless ordeal...

Just a few days before the grand opening, Sonny gives us the chance to see just how dumb he really is. One would have thought that someone who could do such paranormal things as appear and disappear at will, have been in a 1940s band but still look quite youthful, place herself on album covers, turn him into a cartoon figure and bring store dummies to life was, well, likely to be not your typical girlfriend. Instead it is an utter shock to him when Kiera reveals that she is a muse. He is only persuaded of this when Kiera makes some TV characters talk to Sonny and puts Sonny's name in a dictionary (but not , alas, as a synonym for twit). Kiera would have been better advised using that dictionary to look up Zeus . She would've learnt that it's pronounced "Ze-use", not "Zoose". We also discover that she loves Sonny. Any impact that this shock development might have had is spoilt once again by the dialogue, which is inane as ever. Guaranteed to make us splutter in our coffee are such gems as "Kiera, I love you" "I love you too, Sonny!" "No kidding!" Kiera then dolefully disappears in front of a traumatised Sonny. So has virtually everybode else in this theatre, we notice.

No kidding either, about the the scene shortly thereafter where Sonny is in the alley , on rollerskates, where the nine muses first appeared. The camera goes over Sonny slowly, and burnt endlessly in out minds is that red shirt with the top buttons undone ( well, at least the girls might be thrilled at that) and that study of lonely misery etched on Sonny's face. Then he does the logical thing and roller skates at top speed into the wall holding the poster. We and Sonny find that he has entered total blackness. Is he in some after life? Perhaps he's back in that pinball machine from the store scene. But no, we soon find that he's on Olympus (or somewhere) and Kiera's there. Kiera and Sonny engage in dialogue even worse than before (this reviewer will spare you any samples). Then we find that Zeus and Rhea are also there as disembodied voices. Sonny pleads with Zeus to release Kiera, but fails. At least he doesn't get zapped for mispronouncing Zeus'es name. Sonny then leaves , and Kiera mournfully sings out in full (for a change) one of the weakest songs (at least in this reviewer's opinion) in the Xanadu. (WHERE IS THAT TITLE SONG????, we almost shout out loud) Perhaps as a result of this , Rhea pleads with Zeus to release Kiera. Zeus ponders out aloud that perhaps we could, at least

We get transferred , instead, to Xanadu's opening night. We see Danny leading a bizarre circus of 1940s skaters, 1970s skaters where the males are in blue trousers and shirts and the females are dressed in revealing shorts and T-shirts (obviously not a politically correct establishment!), those store dummies, and other such individuals in endless laps around the rollerskating rink. At one point they stare directly at the camera and chant out "Xanadu" endlessly. Are they customers? Staff? Hired help? Who knows? Who cares?

From another perspective , we are seeing Gene Kelly's last big musical scene in his long and commendable career. It's unfortunate that it had to be something like this.

But wait, there's one Gene/Danny skating toward the camera on the screen. Now there's two. Now there's three. The next thing we hear is those long awaited opening bars of "Xanadu" and yes there she is , Kiera, in a nice long gown singing "A place, where nobody dares to go, alove that we cam to know...." Sonny is there smiling away happily but otherwise not reacting to Kiera's appearanace at all. We finish listening to the long-awaited song and then flee from the cinema. Getting there was hard enough. Going any further was beyond out endurance. We go running out and loses ourselves in topical speculation as to who shot JR so as to wipe this experience from our minds.

There is more, including a reappearance by her eight fellow muses, (Just where have they been?? Perhaps they were inspiring people into creating such gems as "Grease 2". "Hurricane" and "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes"), a repeat performance of "Xanadu" and the final answer as to the question as to whether Sonny and Kiera stay together.

Some of this films touches were lost on us. We don't know that the film was are make of a 1940s film (specifically the 1947 Rita Hayworth film "Down to Earth") or that the name Danny Maguire had the name of a character that Kelly had played in an earlier film.

Fir us, only one lesson was learnt from watching this film. To get the most enjoyment out of it, just listen to the soundtrack. It's a lot more endurable and enjoyable. So is listening to Olivia Newtobn-John in her albums, who has sung the title song in a few of her albums and her concerts without damaging her career. It has remained a popular hit.

And that's the one good thing that can be said about "Xanadu".






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