Jul. 13th, 2008


Jul. 13th, 2008 02:42 am
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I've done a lot of trolling of YouTube in the throes of my insomnia (perhaps it's contributing to the problem). Tonight I bounced around from Craig Ferguson to Julie Andrews to Gene Kelly...and that brought me to Xanadu. I love musicals and always have. I have been a fan of mythology since I was a nipper. Likewise with romance and fantasy. So the movie premise appealed to my 15-year old self a great deal.

I saw the movie when it came out. And was disappointed, oh yes. But I think the movie has been slagged way way in excess of what it deserves. There are at base at least 2 reasons why the average American should be happy this movie was made - 1) It gets a 68-year old Gene Kelly dancing on screen again and he does a pretty damned good job, even roller skating. (2) It immortalized the Pan Pacific Auditorium on film (the PPA burned down later so it's great to have some nice footage of it. The score contains some standout tracks and the big dreamy sound of ELO lends itself to something meant to be supernatural. The dancers they hired are talented and there are some very nice choreography ideas, like using the clothes racks in "All Over the World".

One of the problems both movie musicals and Broadway musicals sometimes have is their budget - if the budget is huge, it allows folks to focus on the details and flash and not see the forest for the trees. The first question any musical producer should ask is whether the musical could stand the "high school test". Could it be put on by a local high school theater department and be engaging and entertaining? If not, there's a very good chance it's not a good musical. The best musicals stand on their story, the quality of the music and the quality of the choreography. All of those are things that an average high school theater department can muster in some form or another. When there's too much money being tossed around, people get involved with the hydraulics and the trick photography and whatever and it all masks the fact that maybe the writing isn't as good as is needed.

The post-Beatles era really hit the American musical hard. It survived Presley (even inspiring the wonderful "Bye Bye Birdie" but after the hippie counter-culture spread, musicals were looked on as square. And there were some really unfortunate gyrations gone through by Broadway and Hollywood to try to make "relevant" musicals. The American movie-going public wasn't in the mood for musicals from 1965 - 2000ish. This is partly because H'wood wasn't doing as good a job when they made them and also because the increasing presence of method acting, naturalism and such made it harder for people to be comfortable with a flamboyantly *theatrical* experience.

In a reaction similar to my reaction to superhero movies, each attempt to bring a musical to the screen raised my hopes AND my fears. If it failed, people would attribute it to the genre rather than the individual effort. And that's very much what happened with Xanadu, I think. It doesn't help that the story involved something that was a fad at the time in the US - roller disco. Fads are often over by the time someone in H'wood hears of them, develops a project around them, and brings it to the screen. So Xanadu was doomed to be dated on delivery. Punk had finally broken on American shores (and you can even see "punk" hairdos in the film) and punk was not accepting of the sweetness of a classic movie musical nor the melodicism of musical theater.

I haven't seen Xanadu for a while. I rented it a couple years ago but my memory is so bad that I've already forgotten my reaction to the acting jobs and the plot. But when you go on YouTube and look at the clips of the musical numbers, it stands up rather well.


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