Last night I attended a Xanadu screening in Chelsea hosted by my favorite drag queen, Hedda Lettuce.
Xanadu is a glitter-dusted turd that manages to be completely captivating in spite of the fact that the only thing it really offers is Olivia Newton-John rollerskating in a shredded Gunne Sax-style “Rhiannon” dress and leg warmers to a half dozen of the biggest radio hits of 1980. And, I ask you, isn’t that enough? It certainly was to the two hundred homosexuals that filled the Chelsea Clearview last night.
The awesome soundtrack is to pop music what Puccini is to opera: pure melodic perfection. Neatly divided between Livvy and Electric Light Orchestra, it included hits like All Over The World, Suddenly (a duet with the insipid Cliff Richard), I’m Alive, the thrilling title song and—of course,—Magic, which was number one for four weeks and, after Physical, Olivia’s biggest hit ever!
Forget the fact that even within the perameters of it’s own saccharine reality, Xanadu makes no sense. It doesn’t matter because the film is actually about Olivia Newton-John’s hair! Created as a vehicle for the winsome Australian songbird, then at the peak of her post-Grease popularity, Xanadu was a huge failure. It is so bad, in fact, that with the benefit of time, it has skated right back into the category of camp classic and provides more genuine laughs and feel-good moments than almost any contemporary studio film I can think of. Indeed, its cult grew so exponentially that it was reimagined on Broadway with great success a few years ago.
Xanadu tells the story of the muse Kira, one of Zeus’ nine daughters, whose job it is to inspire people. I wish jobs like this were still available, but we’re in a recession. Rollerskating around Venice beach in a shredded pink Gunne Sax-style prarie dress (curiously she wears about five versions of the same dress she throughout the film), Olivia/Kira meets a sad but handsome painter with beautifully feathered hair named Sonny (Michael Beck—a dead-ringer for Andy Gibb), kisses him and then shoots away in a bolt of orange light. The glowing outline is the film’s only special effect and I must say the motif is beautifully integrated throughout the film. To wit, just look at how the Pan Pacific Auditorium, Los Angeles’ long gone art deco masterpiece was transformed in the hands of the Xanadu special effects team:
Anyway, Sonny befriends Gene Kelly (in his final film), who was once a big band clarinet player and club owner. Together, they decide to open a new nightclub called, what else….oh who cares? I’ve lost interest myself, so let’s talk about the clothes!
In addition to Olivia’s basic layered, shredded “Rhiannon” dress worn during each rollerskating sequence (ostensibly because of its ability to effortlessly billow), the film offers a bountiful array of contemporary and retro clothing, including: lots of 1940s-inspired get-ups, Olivia in Urban Cowboy-chic, Olivia as a rock singer, a space goddess and, in the finale, a bugle beaded jumpsuit with harem pants. When she appeared in the jumpsuit, the queen next to me gasped, “oh my God, her hair is finally blown out…WOW!” These are the kind of pleasures that Xanadu offers in abundance and in these troubling times, why the hell isn’t that enough?
Out of all the many stars I’ve met during my years in entertainment, Olivia was one of the nicest and warmest. We hung out at the 2005 CMA awards which were held in New York, I guess she was there for fellow Aussie Keith Urban. We were at the after party when this picture was taken—I think it was at Nikki Beach. We spent the night drinking champagne in one of the restaurants beds. I felt like I was fifteen and vaguely heterosexual. Listen, there are worse places to be than drinking champagne in bed with Olivia Newton-John, right? Olivia was everything one would hope she would be. Simply…magic!
tamalaJuly 30, 2011 at 12:20 pm
I wist they would make Xanadu part two. I love that movie, although it was a flop in the theaters it get an A+ from me!
MoirMay 16, 2012 at 12:58 am
All I can say is….YOU my friend, are a ROCK STAR! Your writing is genius! How is it your not the talk of TV? And you’ll have to give me some pointers on blogging. Do you just write when something comes into mind? Or do you keep up weekly/monthly? Each post just gets better and better.
Please keep making us laugh! People like you keep me laughing constantly, which I believe it is my fountain of youth and keeps me looking young! For THIS I THANK YOU!
David MunkMay 16, 2012 at 1:31 pm
Hi Lisa. Thank you so much for your effusive feedback. I really appreciate having loyal readers like you and value your feedback. It’s keeping me going… xx
ShibbyMay 23, 2012 at 6:55 pm
Olivia is a godsess like her Xanadu character THANK YOU WHYYYYY aren’t there any fan photos out there of them filming Xanadu?. Producer Joel Silver is meant to have 6 hours of outtakes
– Universal semi splurged and camped an Anniversary edition – why not include a 30 minute vignette?
Re: those fan photos WHY NOT as they filmed so many LA exterior shots and Olivia was hot off the heals of Grease?
David MunkMay 23, 2012 at 7:19 pm
Hi there. Thanks for taking the time to read my work! David
Mitchell KerseySeptember 9, 2012 at 10:13 pm
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MarkApril 17, 2013 at 1:49 pm
Do you know who took that great photo of her w/hair blown out? Is there a poster of it? LOVE !
Photo credit if you or anyone knows please….? Thx!
David MunkApril 17, 2013 at 9:26 pm
Hey Mark! I completely understand your reaction to that photo, which is why I included it. I don’t think it was a poster, more likely just a publicity photo from the film (it’s definitely from Xanadu, though). Thanks for checking in. David
MikeNovember 17, 2014 at 9:12 pm
Mark…did you ever see the cover of the August 1980 US magazine where she is wearing the same outfit..obviously a lengthy photo shoot cause I’ve seen tons of pics in this outfit. One on top of a bar/ and several in this sorta pose…one with her back to the wall etc.
David MunkNovember 18, 2014 at 2:36 pm
Hi Mike. I’m David, not Mark (maybe you got that from my last name “Munk”), but the fact that you are writing about an outfit Olivia Newton-John wore in 1980 makes me fairly sure that I’m the one that you want.
Not sure which picture you’re referring to but I will google it. Olivia was certainly at the apex from 1978-1982 and due respect will always be paid in Stargayzing!
Thanks for reading.
JamesApril 17, 2014 at 5:12 pm
So where is the BLU RAY already?!?!??
David MunkApril 18, 2014 at 3:53 pm
I don’t know Xanadude, but I love, love, your email address. My friend Christopher who is also a Xanadude told me that he went to an all-day screening in LA last year of—wait for it—”Xanadu”, “Skatetown U.S.A.” and “Roller Boogie”. Imagine that? Thanks for checking in and I hope you stay in touch. (You should sign up for my once a month newsletter on the home page!) david
SebastianAugust 8, 2015 at 1:15 am
Xanadu…the scene of my very first date (I was a sixth grader, she 7th, and a total hottie). It was a huge embarrassment, a lot like the movie, I am sure she has yet to forgive me. I am forever traumatized.
LouisMay 16, 2016 at 7:49 pm
Olivia is the Goddess she was in Xanadu. Absolutely stunning, there was no one to touch her at the height of her powers. I love this movie and I have to get the picture with her hair all blown out and enlarge it . I love your style and he way you blog …from a Xanadude
David MunkMay 17, 2016 at 3:09 am
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I hope you’ll stay in touch.