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  Xanadu We Are Not A-Muse-dBuy this film here.
Year: 1980
Director: Robert Greenwald
Stars: Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly, Michael Beck, James Sloyan, Dimitra Arliss, Katie Hanley, Fred McCarren, Ren Woods, Sandahl Bergman, Lynn Latham, Melinda Phelps, Cherise Bates, Juliette Marshall, Marilyn Tokuda, Yvette Van Vorhees, Teri Beckerman
Genre: Musical, Romance, Fantasy
Rating:  5 (from 3 votes)
Review: Sonny Malone (Michael Beck) is a commercial artist who is having trouble finding any inspiration. After yet another sketch leads to nowt, he tears up the paper it's drawn on, opens the window and casts the pieces to the wind, where they are carried on the breeze towards a mural of the nine muses. All of a sudden, the painted figures are surrounded by light and dance off the wall, transforming into beams that shoot around the city. Sonny leaves his home and goes out to get his old job back, but is surprised when one of the muses, the rollerskating Kira (Olivia Newton-John), rushes up behind him and plants a kiss on his lips when he turns around. She then zooms off, leaving him bewildered and fixated on meeting her again. First, however, it's back to work at the record company, where a coincidence becomes clear...

What was it about the late seventies, early eighties and rollerskating? It seemed if you were looking for shorthand to depict your characters as free spirited, filmmakers only had to put a pair of skates on their feet and they were laughing - or they would have been if the films had been successful. Xanadu, along with Can't Stop the Music, was the most infamous musical flop of 1980, but luckily for Olivia, its failure may have put paid to her movie stardom but musically she was bigger than ever, with the soundtrack album masterminded by E.L.O.'s Jeff Lynne and writer-producer John Farrar a huge hit, complete with singles from it reaching number one in the hit parade.

Xanadu was a variation on the 1940s musical Down to Earth, with Olivia as the magical figure descending from heaven to scatter a little spacedust over the unsatisfied life of Sonny. Not only that, but she enhances the life of wealthy clarinet player Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly, spry in his last dancing role) who has been pining for a chance to return to the music scene for "thirty-five years". When Sonny and Danny meet, a friendship develops and the achingly predictable plot moves on to the site of, yes, a prospective roller disco. Will the duo be able to make a success of this place? It doesn't take an Einstein to figure out what happens.

But this is a love story too, which is just as well as Sonny's troubles at work are notably unexciting. He returns to his job as an artist who paints large versions of album covers for shop displays, and it's difficult to get engrossed in his plight embellishing those displays when his boss, Simpson (James Sloyan), demands he render them exactly as they were originally. It's far from dramatic gold, and Beck doesn't convince as a man struggling between art and commerce. However, as luck would have it, the next cover he's doing features Kira, who by chance appeared outside the ballroom that was being photographed...

...and the ballroom will become the roller disco. The best thing Xanadu has going for it is camp value, as while Kelly retains his star quality, Olivia can do very little with an underwritten role and is too often decorative, to the point that she's frequently surrounded by a golden glow to underline her otherworldly fabulousness. The musical numbers are where the film is at its best, as for every naff scene that stages a dance to E.L.O. in a clothing department store, there's a bit of business that makes for cheesy fun, nothing that would carry you away with the sheer scintillation of it all, but enough to buoy your mood with some sparkle. In fact, there's a definite naivety about the whole affair that grows oddly endearing as the movie skips on: somebody thought this was a really good idea. For a while, anyway. Also with: the voices of Wilfrid Hyde-White and Coral Browne as Zeus and Hera, and The Tubes. The other music was by Barry De Vorzon.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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