Monday, July 28, 2014

Marvel's Marvelous Movies #5: Xanadu (Marvel Super Special #17, Summer 1980)

Aren't you supposed to go from the ridiculous to the sublime?  Well, here we are going in the opposite direction.

Xanadu is a would-be romantic magical musical fantasy starring Olivia Newton-John as a muse who leaps to life out of a mural and changes the lives of Michael Beck and Gene Kelly for the better courtesy the blending of old and new forms of pop entertainment.  That is, Big Band swing and Jeff Lyne's ELO and its Beatle-esque power pop and also... because it was sorta popular at the time... roller disco. 

While playing a muse in a musical fantasy might seem the perfect follow-up to her turn in 1978's Grease (where she and John Travolta, then largely known for demanding people stick rubber hoses up their noses on television, generate an amazing amount of electricity together), Olivia Newton-John at the height of her soft balladeering powers could not rescue this movie.  I doubt starring in Xanadu as a lovelorn album cover artist did Michael Beck any favors, either, although it did showcase the guy's musical theater talents in a way playing Swan in The Warriors, Walter Hill's cult gang flick, never could.

Wow! I'm inspired! I truly believe a musical version of The Warriors with a kind of The Wiz feel to it is a movie project that must happen.  Producers, agents of the world-- give me a call.  Let's put a project together.  Starlight Express meets West Side Story with a heapin' helpin' of Battle Royale.  I'd like to thank the Academy.  Film is a collaborative art and I wouldn't be standing here with the hard work of a lot of...

Art by everyone you've ever heard of
Oh wow.  Oh wow.  Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow.  I think I'm in love.  They're dancing as Beck's crotch melts.  Gene Kelly approves from within the comforting wrinkle-free confines of his blue bell-bottomed leisure suit.  Several severed heads gaze wide-eyed yet sightlessly into the unspeakable horrors visited upon them by a serial killer, their mouths forever stretched into the rictus grins of death.  Mick Jagger's lips have torn loose from his face and now hunt for human prey. 

A misfire of a movie becomes a very strange comic with lovely colors but kind of slapdash, neo-psychedelic artwork.  It bears the hallmarks of a rush job, with a number of talented hands giving it a go, but ultimately there’s a futility about Xanadu.  You start with a truly wretched idea—ironically, a movie about inspiration lacking any—and there’s nowhere to go but down.


Let's take a little deeper look.  I mean, we came all this way, so it would be stupid not to.

Art by all the artists

It's bright and colorful, but despite the huge mob of art talent involved, there's not much in the way of storytelling in this book.  Here, Beck's character grabs a pair of rollerskates in one panel, but in the next he's standing in front of a big electronics mixing board explaining to Newton-John how it works with not a skate to be seen.  They're actually in a different location entirely.  Could you tell?  I had to read this dozens of times to understand that.  The page ends with an abrupt cut to the pair couple skating in star-addled sunset framed by indifferently drawn palm trees poking out of a world gone wonky, kind of like a flashback to Richard Corben's reality-twisting artwork "The Slipped Mickey Click-Flip."

Art by many wonderful people who deserve better

Say!  Inspiration strikes again!  A horror version of Xanadu.  Imagine this movie with the Erinyes instead of the muses…

Wait a minute.  I'm having so many grand ideas while thinking about Xanadu.  Maybe I was wrong about the movie and the comic all along.  Marvel Super Special #17:  Xanadu, I brand you a lost classic.  Who knew this would happen when I first saw it in the local Family Mart for months on end as it languished there, ignored by everyone but me and forgotten by the manager who should have sent it back to whatever magical Olympian realm from which it sprang?  I certainly never dreamed I would one day fall in love with a vibrant young woman named Kira and turn upside down and yellow while Elmer's Glue dripped all over my genitals...

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