Guilty Pleasures: Vince Keenan

I know how these guilty pleasure posts are supposed to work. I make the argument that no pleasure should be considered guilty, then go on to name a movie that isn’t actually that terrible – and in fact underscores whatever meager badass credentials I have.

I’m not doing that. My guilty pleasure is a movie that I know for a fact to be lousy, that I like in spite and in part because of that lousiness. It also features roller disco. Which, science has proven, is the least hardboiled activity known to man.

My guilty pleasure is . (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0081777/) Judge away. Here’s more ammunition.

I have watched Xanadu more than a dozen times.

I own Xanadu on DVD and VHS.

I saw Xanadu on Broadway. I went to New York specifically to see Xanadu on Broadway.

Do your worst. Your slings and arrows will leave me unbowed. And I will watch Xanadu again. Some part of me, maybe the best part of me, loves this movie without condition or irony.

The plot of this fantasy musical in brief: one of the mythological muses comes to 1980 Los Angeles in the person of Olivia Newton-John and inspires artist Michael Beck to join forces with one of her former flames (Gene Kelly in his final big screen performance) to open a nightclub. A nightclub that features, as mentioned above, roller disco.

For years I’ve referred to Xanadu as the cocaine simulator. You want to know what riding the white horse is like, son? It makes greenlighting Xanadu seem like a good idea. A musical with both the legendary Kelly and rock band The Tubes? Starring an actor who can neither sing nor dance, and won the role because of his success playing a stone-faced gang leader in the previous year’s The Warriors? With a director (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0339254/) who would go on to achieve his greatest success making documentaries about Fox News and Walmart? Sold!

There’s an animated sequence in the middle of it, for crying out loud.

Yet my affection for Xanadu is genuine. Why do I return to it again and again? Two reasons.

One is the music. I will defend Electric Light Orchestra to the death. I think Jeff Lynne is a daft genius. And I believe his baroque melodies are perfectly suited to the silver screen. Even and especially when they’re used to score the tackiest shopping excursion in cinema history. (http://youtu.be/gdPJ9BtqK7w)

And the other, more important reason is the philosophy. Believe it or not, Xanadu has one.

The movie was released as the 1980s dawned, but cast its eye back to the glory days of Hollywood. It’s an unofficial remake of the 1947 Rita Hayworth film Down to Earth (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0039337/), and Kelly reprises his character from another Hayworth movie, Cover Girl. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036723/) Xanadu is about bridging the gap between the decades, suggesting that true art will speak to an appreciative audience no matter when it’s created. As a fan of classic film noir who works in the video game industry, I find comfort in this notion. The idea is baldly presented in “Dancin’,” as eras literally collide. (http://youtu.be/Ts9GdyGD5e4)

Is it a great number? No. But I love what it says. Consequently I love how it says it, in all its vulgar glory. Both Gene Kelly and Fee Waybill seem vaguely embarrassed by the proceedings. Thus are the generations spanned.

More goes wrong in Xanadu than right. Which make the rare moments that work all the more affecting. There’s a close-up of Michael Beck as his character decides to do something foolish and potentially dangerous simply because he’s in love that catches me off-guard every time. And yes, he’s wearing roller skates when it happens. Ultimately, I love Xanadu because its gaudy heart brims with optimism and enthusiasm. Two qualities I endorse, although you might never know it.

Vince Keenan
Mr. Vince is a renaissance man. He reads books (most without pictures!), makes cool computer games and enjoys long walks on the beach…he enjoys them even more if he is holding a cocktail in hand. For his thoughts on books, films, music, sports and more,  Check out his blog.