I’m kind of obsessed with Gene Kelly right now. I revisited Singin’ in the Rain a few months ago, then I saw him in What a Way to Go, and now I can’t get enough of him. He makes singing and dancing seem so easy, so joyful, like anyone could do it, despite the fact that he’s an athletic, acrobatic dancer who can sing as well as anybody in the Rat Pack. His smile, the way his eyes light up, and the way he coos while he talks just make the whole world cheer up a bit (And no, I’m not gay. I think.).
So I let my girlfriend talk me into watching Xanadu last night, the insane musical from 1980 that featured him, Olivia Newton-John, and Michael Beck (the dude from The Warriors). I guess every great star caps their career with a weird half blunder (think Bela Lugosi in Plan 9 from Outer Space, or Robert Preston in The Last Starfighter), and Xanadu was no different–a neon-infused cavalcade of colors and rollerskates that’s part Tron, part 1980 Floor Show, part Superman II, part Starlight Express, and one of the most over-the-top movies ever to barely break even. As Michael Beck put it once, “The Warriors opened lots of doors for me that Xanadu closed.”
Gene Kelly was around seventy at the time, but he performed with as much vim and vigor as he ever had. I was obsessed with how well he’d preserved his voice all those years, so that it still sounded light as a feather–my girlfriend was more impressed with the fancy footwork he could still do. Both are great achievements for a senior citizen, though perhaps his greatest achievement in Xanadu was a constant look of delight that in hindsight must have been an utter fabrication. I mean, look at this scene, and tell me the man dancing and smiling was really convinced this movie was a good idea:
Despite the fact that this movie is just so, so wrong, I loved it. Olivia Newton-John is cute as a button and sings and dances pretty damn well, and a lot of the music is done by ELO (you know, Jeff Lynne’s pre-Wilburys project). And a lot of the scenes are filmed in Santa Monica (one at the very same bluff used in Lovedoll Superstar). My only regret is that the movie didn’t end ten minutes earlier than it did, before the opening of Gene Kelly’s club resulted in a never-ending rollerskating ruckus that left me yearning to see more tap-dancing Gene. My galpal liked it, though, because they let Olivia go through six or seven costume changes in a row real quick, and she gets to sing an ELO song. They used the ELO version, not hers, on the official Xanadu soundtrack, so you can only hear her sing the title track in the movie itself.
Update: For a more thorough history of the production, check out wetcircuit.