Xanadu: The 1980 Olivia Newton-John Flop Everyone Must See

By | August 7, 2020

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The 1980 film Xanadu combines Greek gods, neon lights, Olivia Newton John, and the plight of a lowly music industry painter. It’s hard to wrap your head around just how mind bogglingly bad this movie is. Aside from the soundtrack by ELO (which is legitimately great), the film itself is incomprehensible. It follows a painter who falls in love with a muse named Terpsichore (or Kira for short) played by Olivia Newton John. Along the way he decides to start a dance club with an aging Gene Kelly, who does his best to make sense of this insane film.

Even with its sad neon effects, weird cartoon interstitial, and nonsensical plot, Xanadu is extremely watchable. You won’t be able to follow what’s happening but you really don’t have to. Xanadu isn’t so much a movie but an experience.

What is a Xanadu?

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source: Universal Pictures

Conceptually, Xanadu fits right into the world of 1940s fantasy musicals. Aside from starring Gene Kelly, the film is more or less a straight remake of 1947’s Down To Earth just with more roller skating. Down To Earth itself is a sequel to the film Here Comes Mr. Jordan which makes the existence of this movie all the more confusing. The film is so committed to the ‘40s story aesthetics that it begins with a very long shot of the old Universal logo before fading into a neon dance scene that has a great ELO song and some not so great effects.

The roller skating is one of the more confusing aspects of the film. After the movie’s intro, Olivia Newton John roller skates through the park where she slides right up to our main character, Sonny Malone, played by The Warriors star Michael Beck. She plants a smooch on him before disappearing. It’s one of those classic movie moments that don’t really translate to a modern audience, especially when Malone just says “what the…” before watching Olivia Newton John skate away. That's about as charismatic as he gets.

The roller disco club in the movie is named Xanadu, a fantasy land made popular in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 1816 poem "Kubla Khan." And yes, the poem is quoted in the film.