The Late Shift: Xanadu



So. Just how high do you think the people who made Xanadu were when they made Xanadu?

Based on what I saw at The Belcourt on Saturday night, I'm guessing the stoned quotient is somewhere between “deciding factor in syncing Dark Side of the Moon with The Wizard of Oz” and “Snoop Dogg on a bender.” But I could be wrong. In fact I probably am wrong — this thing had a Don Bluth animated sequence wherein Swan from The Warriors and Olivia Newton-John turn into fish and dance with each other. The amount of drugs smoked to make that happen is unfathomable.

But the Bluth fish dance is only the tip of Xanadu's “what the what?” iceberg. This is a movie with neon muses on rollerskates, a character transposed from a 1944 Rita Hayworth movie (Gene Kelly reprises his Danny McGuire role from Cover Girl), a prom style dress-up montage and the most garish nightclub ever conceived by human brains. It's a mercury-filled 1980s nightmare movie, propelled by rollerskates and half-hearted appropriation of Greek myths.

It would be an understatement to say that I truly did not understand what the hell was happening in Xanadu. But, then again, you'd also be hard-pressed to find a movie I was less in the demographic for. (Maybe The Care Bears Movie. Or Step Up Revolution.)

I'm going to come right out and say it: I truly cannot stand film musicals. Can't stand them. With a few exceptions — mainly movies that organically integrate music into the story like Once and David Bowie vehicles — I'm never more bored and irritated in a movie theater than when I'm watching a musical. The only thing that comes even close are parodic comedies, but even then I can usually manage those with a slack-jawed half-interest that's usually reserved for episodes of Family Guy. (Friedberg/Seltzer joints excluded.)

But movies like Xanadu? Man, I don't even know where to begin.

Ignoring the fact that Xanadu in particular is so bad that it, along with the Village People biopic Can't Stop the Music, inspired the first Razzies (it took home “Worst Director” in the inaugural awards ceremony), I think I've pinned down the reason why I have such a hard time with musicals as a genre. Xanadu, and movies like it, take reality and warp it into an insane hyperreality, littered with glitzy Broadway ostentation and barely coherent storytelling, while demanding to be taken seriously.

At their worst, the plots of musicals are nothing but a vehicle for highly produced song-and-dance numbers. All of the story elements that usually play out smoothly in an arc over the course of an hour and a half get compressed into chunks sandwiched between whatever ELO thought would be totally bitchin' back in 1979. There's a weird cognitive dissonance between what the movie says and what the movie actually does in the form of musical numbers.

There's a really telling line in the movie, where hasbeen nightclub owner Kelly is fielding calls from the press about covering opening night at Xanadu, the club he designed with sometimes-animated-fish Sonny and Kira. He tells them, “we're not gonna do any of that celebrity stuff … just people. Anybody who shows up.” Then, when it comes time for the big finale, there is nary a single human being that could be considered “just people” in sight. Xanadu's 10-minute finale looks like a Village People concert threw up in the center ring of a Barnum & Bailey circus.

The majority of the emotional catharsis takes place in the musical numbers, which is usually lost on people (read: me) who are distracted by how much of a stretch the songs are. While everybody was wrapped up in the muses' return to Olympus (or whatever), I was concerned with how completely mundane Day Two at Xanadu must wind up being. In any case, Xanadu in particular just feels like a collection of weirdly choreographed music videos jammed into the format of a feature film. Which I am most definitely not down with.

But, on the other hand, the movie wasn't made for me. This movie was made for the lady wearing a silver sequined shirt a couple rows behind me and the other lady who literally rolled up at the movie wearing rollerskates. Also, I think the '80s were mostly stupid, so I had that going against me as well. Ah well, you win some, you lose some.

Let's Get Physical, Physical:

* Incidentally, Xanadu isn't the worst musical I've ever seen. That dubious honor goes to Repo! The Genetic Opera, which co-stars Paris Hilton and is patently awful from front to back — no matter what those goth kids at the mall keep telling you.

* To give you an idea of musicals I do like, here's an abridged list: Once, Phantom of the Paradise (thanks Jim!), most movies featuring The Muppets, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Nightmare Before Christmas, Dancer in the Dark (insert ugly sobbing noises here), Labyrinth, and that one episode of Buffy. I haven't seen Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, but I've been told I'd like that one too.

* Notice how Rocky Horror Picture Show isn't in the above list? Whelp.

* Hey, let's talk about how much the drink special ruled for a minute. Since Xanadu was going to be a less-attended affair than, say, Jurassic Park, liquor alchemist Pat took the weekend as an opportunity to get real weird with his drink making. Entitled the “Pg. 728” (after the page of the dictionary Kira tells Sonny “muse” is on), the drink special included gin, orange blossom syrup, lime, Peychaud's Bitters and cranberry air. You heard me.

Using a molecular gastronomy technique I've only seen on episodes of Top Chef, Pat used Xanthan Gum and other science stuff to turn cranberry juice into edible bubbles. The result is that you taste cranberry in the air inside the drink before the gin/orange/lime bit. It was really neat and now I think some enterprising Nashvillian needs to start a booze-based adult science fair. Good show, Pat!

* During his introduction, Jason asked a question about the finale to those who had seen it and I respectfully closed my ears. Anybody know what the question was? Was it asking if the whole movie was just a Tyler Durden fantasy on the part of doddering old Gene Kelly? Because, yes, I think it totally is.

In Two Weeks: The Dude gets trapped in a computer and motorcycle-races to the death in Tron. Behold, the grandeur of 1982 computer animation!

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