Warriors, come out so ska-eee-ate? Michael Beck (famously, Swan in The Warriors) plays a roller skating painter who befriends a beachside clarinetist and decides to open a nightclub.
That’s the truly incredible premise of Xanadu, made even more incredible by the fact that the seaside Benny Goodman is portrayed by none other than Gene Kelly and the artist’s muse is Olivia Newton John.
A musical that has more in common with Heavy Metal and Roger Corman’s The Trip than it does with Singin’ in the Rain or Mary Poppins, Xanadu dials up the weird with animated sequences, hallucinatory 1940s big band dance and tap, 70s prog rock and musical numbers that simply defy all description and linear sense.
ELO’s Jeff Lynne penned the very odd soundtrack to accompany the storyline of one Sonny Malone, an artist who paints for a record company exec who bears a minor resemblance to Al Pacino in Carlito’s Way. His work is a happier take on Storm Thorgersen’s, that rock artist responsible for the likes of the bleak Pink Floyd “Animals” album cover. Malone becomes smitten with a chimerical Kira (Olivia Newton John) and ends up roller skating with her in an abandoned beachside theatre that used to showcase pro wrestling.
Much to Malone’s chagrin she keeps disappearing and he forlornly walks along the beach where he encounters Gene Kelly’s “Danny,” a dapper, upbeat clarinetist who takes him under his wing and invites him to his Old Hollywood-style mansion.
They endeavour to turn the beachside theatre into XANADU, a smashing new nightclub that merges the best of 1940s big band with the excesses of late 70s prog rock. Roger Ebert describes such a musical pairing as “Andrews Sisters clones in close harmony, and the Electric Light Orchestra in full explosion.”
Let’s just say this business plan wouldn’t pass muster on The Shark Tank.
If “Xanadu” sounds familiar it should. It was the mansion in Citizen Cane and it’s famously referenced in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s opioid-induced poem, Kubla Khan: Or a Vision in a Dream (that poem famous for the line about having “drunk the milk of paradise”)
Speaking of being under the influence, mind-altering stimulants have to have been the impetus for Xanadu, which not only references the famous Romantic-era poem but has a subplot involving the daughter of Zeus (when we said Kira was Sonny’s muse…we meant that…an actual muse!)
There is a sequence that’s best described as taking place on The Mother Ship and a portal into another dimension that’s disguised as a graffiti wall Sonny Malone roller-skates through. There’s also a surreal montage of Gene Kelly trying on dandy suits.
Off-the-charts wacky and yet oddly compelling (if overlong) Xanadu has been described as “unembarrassed chutzpah,” “campy joyful fun,” and “Xana-don’t.”
Why not call it Portrait of The Warriors Artist as a Young Man? It nearly defies description but is definitely worth a look.
***1/2 (out of 5)
[AND CHECK OUT OUR XANADU DISCUSSION ON THE REALLY AWFUL MOVIES PODCAST]