How do you talk about a movie like Xanadu? Do you emphasize that it’s a late ’70s vision of the ’80s, but built on the bones of a Hollywood Golden Age musical fantasia? Do you lean heavily into the strange trivia that this was Gene Kelly’s final film performance? Do you ask questions about the movie’s use of Greek mythology in light of its title’s nested reference to Citizen Kane and Coleridge’s unfinished opium-dream poem? Do you make snide remarks about how much cocaine must have been involved? In this moment, do you eulogize the stunning, genuinely magical and dearly missed Olivia Newton-John?
In terms of plot, Xanadu is La La Land on llello (check off the cocaine box). Struggling artist Sonny Malone (Michael Beck, who you know from The Warriors or not at all) is about to pack it in. Then he meets a wealthy real estate mogul (Kelly) who encourages him not to give up his dreams of being an artist, as he gave up his own dream of being a big band leader. On the heels of that serendipitous encounter, he sees and falls in love with the ephemeral Kira (Olivia Newton-John), who it turns out is actually a muse from Mount Olympus that he has mystically brought to life through his extremely mid pastel drawings. But can she give up her immortal life of endless pleasure to be with this clown?
A couple years ago, REWIND showed the Sean Connery dog’s-breakfast Zardoz. Our synopsis for that one consisted entirely of a single still image of Connery in his iconic wardrobe of a red Borat-style one-piece and thigh-high cavalry boots. Words wilt. Xanadu, like Zardoz, is more than the sum of its parts. Every truly great movie is alchemy. It’s hitting the lottery. But one of REWIND’s core theses is: sometimes a not-great movie hits the lottery too, and in a lot of ways, the result is more interesting. Xanadu isn’t great. But it’s miraculous.