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XANADU (1980)





There is no point in trying to lie. Xanadu, in sheer dramatic terms, is not a good film. In fact you could call it (and many critics did) downright appalling. But in terms of enjoyability, it ranks up there with the very best. In a year that saw, among others, the magnificent 'Raging Bull' released, 'Xanadu' is a more comfortable reversion to good, old fashioned Hollywood entertainment, basically a sort of late 70s/early 80s version of the classic Hollywood musical. It stars the wonderful Olivia Newton-John as Kira, a muse (check your Greek Mythology) sent by Zeus to inspire struggling young artist Sonny (Michael Beck). She decides that his destiny (and here is the bit that puzzles me) is NOT to be a great artist, but to open a vast roller disco called XANADU with the help of ageing musician Danny Maguire (Gene Kelly, reprising his role from 1944's 'Cover Girl'), whom she had previously been sent to inspire way back in the Forties (the Forties are mentioned constantly, as are the Eighties, a sledgehammer approach to remind us that this is a throwback to the good ole days but with a 'fresh' twist). All this however is complicated when Sonny and Kira fall in love, much to the annoyance of Zeus, who summons Kira to return to Olympus, which she does, with Sonny in hot pursuit. The plot is really just a very threadbare clothesline on which to hang over 10 enormous production numbers, all of which feature songs performed by either Newton-John or believe it or not ELO. The highlights include the brilliant title song, sung at the big finale (replete with hundreds of rollerskating extras and a couple dancing on top of a pressure cooker ?) and the big band duet between Kelly and Newton-John which is without a doubt the highlight of the film, as he touchingly remembers Kira from the Forties and they are reunited in a GENUINELY sweet dream sequence. Performancewise, Newton-John is all anyone could ask for. Radiantly beautiful, undeniably talented, she exudes mass quantities of the screen charisma that many critics accused her of not having at all (one called her a 'rollerskating lightbulb'). She is nicely partnered with Kelly, in a fond reprisal of the roles of his glorious heyday. Beck is just awful though, a blank, po-faced non-entity, a poor substitute for original choice John Travolta (who turned it down). Which leaves us with that big question: Is 'Xanadu' any good. As a drama-NO ... as a hugely enjoyable piece of cinematic bubblegum-MOST DEFINITELY.