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!