Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Xanadu - Xanadon't

Xanadu: This two string guitar is out of tune

 I was researching early 1980s film the other day and want to muse on the film Xanadu. That's fitting because the film itself touches loosely on the topic of muses, those Greek entities who inspire artists to greatness. Well, let's see what comes out now or if my muses have abandoned me to their neon kingdoms.

Xanadu had a lot of things going for it. Lawrence Gordon, Joel Silver both were producers in the early part of their careers on this flick. Gene Kelly , the greatest singer/dancer ever filmed, had a major role. Olivia Netwon John at the height of her popularity was here. Michael Beck's last film was the sleeper hit Warriors (1979). Songs written by pop stars ELO and John Farrar (Grease) were at their disposal. But that wasn't enough too keep this 90 minute music video above water. The problem comes down to director Robert Greenwald going into the deep end of feature films after a handful of made for tv movies. (He later found his muse in documentaries.) But the killer was working from a script written by Richard Christian Danus and Marc Rein Rubel. How these two untested writers got any responsibility for a major film script is perplexing but how they got all the responsibiity is evidence that there are failures in decision making of big studios. And when producers and executive heads make mistakes bad movies get made. Danus had never written anything and his career basically ended with Xanadu. Rubel also was totally inexperienced but managed to scrape a living as a writer after Xanadu. But the flimsy script itself is their biggest defect. It seems that absolutely no one stepped in to save them...the unbalanced and bland script was handed to Gene Kelly and Olivia Newton John who must've grimaced when reading it. In fact, I'll bet they were certain that after they got the initial check from their agent upon signing that this movie would never be made. As shooting approached I can picture frantic calls made to agents trying to stall, to find some way to avoid acting in this sure fire bomb. I can also imagine Rubel and Danus shaking their heads in absolute amazement that this piece of trash, that they assuredly threw together at the last minute thinking it would be another made for tv flick or else shelved forever, was going to star Gene Kelly, hero of Brigadoon, American in Paris, Singin in The Rain, and every blockbuster musical in technicolor history. This is inexplicable because if you put Gene Kelly and Olivia Newton John in a room together they would write a better script in two hours. So why the fuck are two total amateurs in charge of this script? Michael Beck once said, "Warriors opened a lot of doors for me. Xanadu closed them." The drama behind the camera far exceeds the drama in front.

Pick Your Junk: man package or lady hole

So, I lay the blame on Rubel and Danus for not having any talent. Their atrocious script reads like a first draft written by a teenager. They might've written a movie about the muses but believe me the muses never deigned to visit them while creating this uninspiring and transparent story with totally generic dialogue like, "Want some popcorn?" and "Don't go searching underwater." Then I blame Greenwald for agreeing to direct this one dimensional mess. How do you put two people with no chemistry on an empty sound stage in roller skates and have them skate around while "Suddenly" plays in the background and make that cool? I'll bet the crew itself was bored to tears and they were watching it live. Of course the producers are to blame for believing they could make this entertaining but I suspect they had Gene Kelly and Newton John on the hook for a limited time and pushed ahead despite the horrible material. "The music will carry the film," they probably said, "How can you go wrong with ELO?" they asked. "End with a bang and no one will remember how bad the first 80 minutes were," they argued. Ok. Michael Beck was exposed as wooden and ELO, otherwise a great band, had to live with this crown of thorns for the rest of their existence. Jeff Lynne trusted the wrong person. This film now serves as a warning to anyone making a movie that hopes to be hip and trendy to an audience that has just entered the first year of a new decade. Hold on, do you think roller skates and keytars mixed with Glenn Miller and feathered hair and shirts unbuttoned to reveal hairy man chest is going to be cool in 1980? It wasn't that cool in 1977 so what makes you think spandex and denim vests are still going to be cool? Oh, that's right, you've never written a movie before. Forget I said anything.
 Check out the leg warmers on the female bird!

This is a script about a muse (daughter of Zeus?) (Newton-John) manifesting herself in modern day Los Angeles (wearing a sheer curtain, leg warmers and rollerskates) and inspiring hair-challenged commercial artist Sonny Malone (Beck) to open a rollerskate disco with retired jazz clarinetist Danny McGuire (Kelly). That has "Made for TV" ( and "Failure") written all over it. Forget the animated scenes, it's goofy to start with because it basically involves extraterrestrials interfering with humanity. Not just any humans, a night club promoter and an album painter. Deus Ex Machina is a term used to describe a writing device that solves a problem the writer can't solve by using paranormal events that interfere with the characters. Your story is boring? Give a character a heart attack or have them become a ghost. It means God as Machine and it's usually used by unemployed writers as a way to criticize employed writers like, "His characters boxed themselves in so he pulled out a Deus Ex Machina. What a hack!" Defying all laws, Rubel and Danus use Deus Ex Machina as the basis of their film! But when you have a character who begins the movie abandoning his attempt to be a "real" artist to return to commercial art and ends up being a disco club designer then you have a Deus who doesn't even know how to inspire the characters. So Sonny is content to paint walls in his disco? He's no closer to his dream of artistic expression than he was at the start. Some would say he's much further away. And his wardrobe is still atrocious. Furthermore, he has been convinced to do things by Kira and enabled by Danny's money (that he made in construction after he abandoned his own music career when Kira abandoned him). He's not made his own choices and has nothing personal invested in his decisions. He quits a job he hates! So what? Did the word "sacrifice" never come up in the script workshops?Oh, this script is terrible terrible terrible. If it were only a little more wordy then it would be campy but they run out of things to say in the first two seconds and the lack of chemistry and acting ability starve the screen of oxygen. The animation and roller disco and music are all that validate the producers. It's a perfect tv flick that attracts advertising spots for acne cream. But to foist this abomination on America using Gene Kelly (watching this movie reportedly killed him) and Olivia Newton John was cruel. The only thing more cruel would be to make you watch me watching Xanadu. So, here you go:

The sad part is that if the producers had come to their sense and DONE THE ENTIRE MOVIE ANIMATED BY Don Bluth then it would've been a timeless hit, loved by millions. But by forcing it into the live action arena it destroyed the magic. The story line would've been fine for animated, but the generic director had absolutely no budget to work with so everything seems wooden. Animated in the same magical style as this music video would've been perfect. But they actually went for the worst of both worlds by inserting an excellent animated music video into a terrible live action film. WHY WHY WHY? One or the other. The fish in the video are infinitely more dimensional than the human actors.
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.