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Film / Xanadu (1980)

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"Where time stops and the magic never ends."
"A place where nobody dared to go
The love that we came to know
They call it Xanadu
(It takes your breath and it'll leave you blind)

And now, open your eyes and see
What we have made is real
We are in Xanadu
(A dream of it, we offer you)"

For the trope previously called Xanadu, please see here.

What has Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly, that guy from The Warriors (Michael Beck), roller skates, lots of glowing blue people, all to an Electric Light Orchestra soundtrack?

The 1980 movie musical Xanadu is a story about a frustrated artist named Sonny Malone (Beck) who paints album covers for a living and is unhappy about it. By tossing some of his drawings into the wind, he somehow brings a painting on a wall of nine young women to life and one of them — Kira (Newton-John) — finds and kisses him. Shortly after, he meets Danny McGuire (Kelly), a former big band leader. The two strike up a friendship and, with encouragement from Kira, make plans to convert an abandoned building (The Pan Pacific Auditorium) into a roller disco. Sonny and Kira, meanwhile, fall in love, with there being the slight complication that Kira is actually "Terpsichore" (turp-suh-KOR-ay), the Greek Muse of dance and choral singing, and was only sent to bring Xanadu into creation. Soon, she will have to return home, just as Xanadu will be opening.

The titular roller disco's title comes from the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem "Kubla Khan" and refers to a province where Khan establishes his pleasure garden. Naming a movie about a muse with a reference to a notoriously unfinished poem that was conceived under the influence of drugs was a very ironic (and some might say appropriate) choice.

Widely panned by critics, it found a cult audience. It has now been adapted into a stage musical that doesn't even bother to hide how campy the whole thing is.

After seeing a 99-cent double feature of this movie and the Village People movie Can't Stop the Music, publicist John J.B. Wilson was inspired to create the Golden Raspberry Awards, aka "The Razzies". (Both were nominated for the inaugural Worst Picture Award, with Can't Stop the Music winning.)

"Your tropes will shine for you, Xanadu":

  • The '80s: The movie stands at the nexus between '70s cheese and '80s cheese.
  • Actor Allusion: Danny says "Oh, I've been known to twinkle a toe or two". Danny of course is played by Gene Kelly, one of the most famous film dancers of all time.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: While the film ends on a vague, bittersweet note with Sonny and Kira seemingly separated while the disco is a success, the musical has Zeus allow Kira to be with Sonny as a mortal (and Australian), revealing that the true Xanadu is "True love and the ability to create and share art."
  • Adaptational Explanation:
    • While the Greek Muse Clio in the film simply shows up as a roller skating Australian for no reason, in the stage musical Clio explains to the Muses that she's faking the accent and using the current fashion as a disguise, since Muses are not allowed to reveal themselves to the mortals they help. Played for laughs in that it isn't a great disguise. Or accent.
    • It also appears to explain why the immortal Kira would fall for the ordinary Sonny after so many years and so many other artists she inspired (including Danny) — her sisters placed a curse on them both to fall in love so that she breaks Zeus's law. Subverted when it's revealed Kira's leg warmers protected her from the curse, thus her love for Sonny was real all along.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Melpomene, Muse of Tragedy, and Calliope, Muse of Epics, go from background muses in the film to the main antagonists in the stage musical, as they attempt to get Clio punished by Zeus out of jealousy.
  • Animated Music Video: The "Don't Walk Away" segment, created by Don Bluth.
  • Bar Slide: During the big Xanadu opening number/medley, specifically during "Get on the first stage out of this town".
  • Between My Legs: A spider woman crawls through a tunnel of legs in the "All Over The World" segment.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Xanadu the club is a success, but Kira must go back to Mount Olympus, but Sonny afterwards meets a waitress identical to her.
  • But Now I Must Go: Kira was sent to Earth just to inspire Xanadu's creation, but she has to leave Sonny the night before the opening despite her feelings for him. Sonny refuses to give up on her and tracks her to her realm, but her father Zeus refuses to listen to his pleas to let her come back to him. It takes Kira singing about her true love to persuade Zeus to allow her to come back to Sonny for "a moment, or maybe forever", but since he can't tell mortal time, it's still a matter of time before Kira has to leave Earth again.
  • Camp: This movie has been described as unintentional early '80s John Waters. The musical plays into the camp on purpose and lampshades the film's issues, along with the '80s and musical theater in general.
  • Chick Magnet: Just about every woman Sonny meets, save for his two female coworkers, instantly become smitten with him. And though this never strays into Even the Guys Want Him, Sonny meets multiple men who try to introduce him to their daughters. Heck, the overall main plot of the film is about how Sonny's wiles manage to win over a literal Muse of Olympus.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Adapted by Marvel Comics for its Marvel Super Special series.
  • Conspicuously Light Patch: The "mystical aura" variant happens to Sonny as he enters the muses' world, as seen here.
  • Cool Old Guy: Gene Kelly is charming as ever playing Danny McGuire.
  • Cool Train: During their first dance, Sonny and Kira encounter a Milwaukee Road Class A for some reason.
  • Costume-Test Montage: Sonny takes Danny McGuire to the mall to get some new clothes and there's a long dance number in which Danny tries on various outfits, set to ELO's "All Over The World".
  • Doppelgänger Replacement Love Interest: Sonny ends up parting ways with Kira, only to meet a waitress identical to her at the end. Or the waitress actually is Kira, trying for a version of the relationship her family can at least pretend they don't know about, if her remarks about her parents are anything to go by.
  • Fantastic Romance: Sonny, a human, and Kira, an immortal Greek Muse.
  • Genre Blending: Music-wise, anyway. The soundtrack veers from pop to disco to big-band-swing to rock. A good single-song example: "Dancin'" could be considered The Andrews Sisters meets Loverboy ... Loverboy as performed by The Tubes.
  • Have We Met?: Early on after Sonny meets Kira, Danny shows him a photo of a woman he once sang with; that woman resembles Kira. Later when Sonny and Danny are discussing names for the nightclub, Kira steps in, and Danny, alarmed by the resemblance to his lost love, asks if he knows her. When she says he doesn't, Danny plays it off as a coincidence.
  • I Always Wanted to Say That
    Danny: Opening night...whatever you want, it's on the house! You know, I've always wanted to say that line!
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Danny and Sonny.
  • Jukebox Musical: The stage musical version is essentially one for the Electric Light Orchestra, whose leader, Jeff Lynne, produced most of the music for the film. The stage version adds "Evil Woman" and "Strange Magic."
  • Landmark of Lore: Pan Pacific Auditorium and the Hollywood Sign.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Sonny is a normal human, while Kira, with whom he falls in love, is one of the Muses from Mount Olympus.
  • Medium-Shift Gag: An interlude courtesy of Don Bluth, his first post-Disney animation work.
  • The Musical: The only thing that was considered quality work was the music — everything else, not so much. The Broadway version was a cheerfully absurd Refuge In Funny/Refuge In Cool Music laugh-fest with a load of Take Thats at the movie.
  • Never Trust a Trailer:
    • Sort of; in the opening title, there's a slight implication of aliens in the form of a UFO flying across a picture of Earth, which is further helped along by a robot-like thing showing up in a musical number. The "robot-like thing" is actually a steam locomotive.
    • When CBS hosted the network television premiere in 1984, the network deliberately painted the movie in the promos as featuring a Love Triangle with Sonny and Danny competing against each other for the ultimate affections of Kira. Of course, no such triangle exists in the movie proper, and in-universe, Danny knows that Kira's resemblance to his lost love is just a coincidence.
  • No Fourth Wall:
    • In the end of the stage adaptation, Melpomene appears by herself, without Calliope, since her actress was doubling as Aphrodite, which she remarks on. Also, a remark is made about the shorter running time of the musical, since, at the time, they were playing next door to the revival of Gypsy, and they often remarked that "Patti LuPone has yet to let go of her daughter!"
    • Internally as well in the movie. The final thing convincing Sonny that Kira is really a muse is her turning on the TV to an old movie, and the characters in the movie breaking the fourth wall to talk to him directly.
  • The Oner: The "Suspended in Time" scene consists of a three-and-a-half minute long slow zoom from a full-length shot of Kira to a closeup of her head while she sings the song.
  • Phosphor-Essence: Olivia Newton-John's character, due to being The Muse.
  • Present Day: Set in 1980, the year it was released.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: It is loosely based on Classical Mythology.
    • For example, Kira would be better off as muses Euterpre (flutes and lyrics) and Terpsicore (Dance). Also, at one point, Zeus (a guy noted for his penchant for carnal relations on many levels) states that the Gods are above such things as carnal relations.
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: A Broadway musical in 2007 that, unlike most examples of the trope, had its tongue planted firmly in its cheek.
  • Shared Universe: Implied. Prior to this film, Gene Kelly also played a character named "Danny McGuire" in the film Cover Girl (no relation to the cosmetics company). This film is later referenced in Down To Earth (sequel to Here Comes Mr. Jordan), which features Rita Hayworth (who was also in Cover Girl) as "Terpsichore", but uses the name "Kitty" in her Earth form). See "Shout-Out" below. It should be mentioned that all three of the films in question were released by Columbia, while this movie was released by Universal.
  • Shout-Out: Gene Kelly's character has the same name and much of the same backstory as the character he played in the 1944 film Cover Girl; Danny's backstory in Xanadu sounds suspiciously like a version of Cover Girl without the happy ending.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: As idealistic as it gets.
  • Song Style Shift: "Dancin'" alternates between 40's-style swing and New Wave rock.
  • Step Three: Profit: 1) Meld Glam Rock and Big Band. 2) ??? 3) Profit with a Starlight Express Expy.
  • The Television Talks Back: When Kira tries to prove she really is a Muse, she uses her power to make a gangster on the television ask Sonny if he should off his captive or not. A moment later she pulls a similar trick in a different medium, when she opens the dictionary to the entry for "muse" and the text concludes with the question "do you believe me now, Sonny?"
  • Tron Lines: Kira's entrances and exits are filled with glowing lines.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Danny gives a big one to Sonny when Kira leaves him the night before the Xanadu grand opening. Knowing from experience how it feels to lose your true love and let your dreams die because of it, Danny urges Sonny to find Kira and never give up on her. Sonny does take his advice, setting up his ultimate pursuit for Kira.
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: The musical version takes some scripted swipes at the movie and how lame it was.
  • "You!" Exclamation: So Sonny has been painting an album cover featuring Kira. Later, when he sees her on the street, he yells out "You!" (and she answers "Me!").

Alternative Title(s): Xanadu 2007, Xanadu