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  • Writer's pictureJeff South

Other Summer Movies of the 80s: Xanadu

Released: August 8th, 1980

Olivia Newton-John Kira

Gene Kelly: Danny McGuire

Michael Beck: Sonny Malone

Screenplay by Richard Christian Danus and Marc Reid Rubel

Rated PG

The role Olivia Newton-John played in my life from fifth grade through ninth cannot be overstated. I essentially had three major celebrity crushes at the time: Valerie Bertinelli, Catherine Bach, and Olivia Newton-John. Don't get me wrong. There were others. Cheryl Ladd, Kristy McNichol, Lindsay Wagner, Elaine Joyce, Jan Smithers from WKRP because I was a Bailey guy. Who else? Lynda Carter, Suzanne Somers, Donna Summer.

Where was I going with this?

Olivia Newton-John. Big crush. Movies. I'm back on track.

Look, Grease was HUGE in the summer of '78. The soundtrack was everywhere. It marked Olivia's transition into sexier fare and in the fall of '78 she released "A Little More Love." Her mellow country-pop had been a staple at our house throughout the '70s, so seeing her vamp it up at the end of Grease was a bit of revelation for me. Xanadu seemed a good movie to start my maturation as a film lover. After all, Olivia was growing, so it made sense I should join her. Gene Kelly was a Hollywood legend, too, and I knew of his work, so that added to the movie's adult cachet for me. I was 12 when I saw Herbie Goes Bananas. Now that I had turned 13, the need to grow up weighed on me. Xanadu was going to help with that.

Xanadu was weird. I remember loving the soundtrack because "Magic" had been released earlier in the summer. I'm not sure what I was expecting walking in, but it wasn't a fantastical musical that involved Greek gods and roller skating. I was into it because I, too, roller skated. The movie was speaking to me, although I was unsure what it was trying to say. The merging of old style Hollywood aesthetics with contemporary motifs appealed to me, even though at the time I couldn't have told you that. I liked musicals, but didn't make a big deal out of it because loving movie musicals wasn't something guys discussed in the locker room after 7th grade PE unless one was also into getting snapped with a wet towel. I was not. If you were, you'll get no judgment from me.

The dance number to the movie's title song bugged me. The sounds of the dancers' feet shuffling were included in the audio to the point of distraction. The roller skating sounded like tap dancing, which I guess made sense, but it was still off-putting. I re-watched the Xanadu number while prepping this post and it now looks sluggish to me. For such a peppy, happy song about an amazing place, the routine lacks energy. I haven't seen Xanadu since then and perhaps a revisit of the entire film would bring a new appreciation, but I'm not in a hurry.

Leaving the theater that day in August 1980, a sense of disappointment dragged me down. In my heart, I knew I loved the movies and wanted to experience them, but I need to expand my horizons. Perhaps the next one I chose would be what I was looking for.

EPILOGUE: My crush for Olivia Newton-John has endured. The same can be said of my crush on Valerie Bertinelli, Lynda Carter, Suzanne Somers...

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