Okay, so we’re supposed to be talking about Singin’ in the Rain. Not a problem. It’s one of my favorite movies. I remember seeing it for the first time in the ’80’s in Syracuse’s Landmark Theatre, a grand old vaudeville/movie palace from the 1920’s. It was the perfect place to see such a historic film.
As much as I like that movie, I’d like to talk about my second favorite Gene Kelly film. That would be, of course, the 1980 classic Xanadu. This was one of the main inspirations for the creation of the annual Golden Raspberry Awards that honors the worst films each year. At the time, though, it was a favorite of me and my sisters. Here we are, 20+ years later, and I like it even more now than I did then.
At this point, it’s nearly impossible to know exactly what you’re getting into when you watch it. I mean, the Netflix description lets you know well in advance what sort of minefield you’re walking into:
A winsome Greek muse inspires an artist and a musician to unite and turn a vacant building into the world’s coolest roller rink.
There’s a lot that’s wrong with this movie. Many, many things. It has an extremely illogical story line. It has special effects that were probably cheesy even back then. I’ve seen high school plays with better acting. There’s a Don Bluth animation sequence that feels like Walt Disney on acid (but then again, doesn’t that describe all of Fantasia?).All of these things, though, now add up to give it an overpowering charm.
On the other hand, there’s a lot that this movie gets right. For starters, there’s Gene Kelly. He has the same endearing warmth that makes him instantly likable. And even pushing seventy, the guy could still dance. Okay, maybe he had lost some of the athleticism that gave his earlier work its wow factor, but he still moved with an easy grace most of us couldn’t hope to match in our prime. Then there’s the music. The soundtrack heavily features ELO and Olivia Newton-John, both still in top form. There’s one number in particular that I like. When old musician Danny (Gene Kelly) and young artist Sonny (Michael Beck) look over their prospective roller disco, each describes what they see for the future. This leads to a back-and-forth song between Danny’s Olivia Newton-John-led big band and Sonny’s rock band (The Tubes). Nowadays, mashups are everywhere, from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to Youtube’s 50 Cent-Thomas the Tank Engine songs. But this was the first one I remember even seeing, and it’s always stuck with me. And to top it all off, there’s a big musical number at the end that includes a group of dancers. One of them, Adolfo Quinones, would go on to play Ozone in the Breakin’ movies.
Okay, so I’ve spent plenty of time describing the movie. But I’m supposed to relate this back to writing, aren’t I? Do I use the song “I’m Alive,” where the painted muses come to life? “Dancin’,” where Danny and Sonny see the possibilities that the future holds? “Don’t Walk Away,” when the main characters turn into several cartoon animals? I’ve always wanted to be a cartoon animal.
Nope, I’m going to relate it back to one character, Gene Kelly’s Danny. He was a clarinet player back in the 1940’s, but gave up what he loved doing to run his family’s construction company and, in the process, become fabulously wealthy. But he always longed for what he gave up and recognized a kindred spirit in Sonny, jumping at the chance to work with him and return to the creative world. This isn’t entirely dissimilar to my own story. I graduated college with an art degree, intent on taking the world by storm with my crazy, funny videos. That didn’t happen. Through a series of events, I ended up going back to school and, years later, wound up teaching college math. I thoroughly loved that job, but a large piece of me wondered what could have been. Maybe it was boredom, maybe an early mid-life crisis, but for whatever reason, a few years ago, I began tinkering with writing and instantly fell in love with it. Like Danny, I felt instantly connected again to a part of me that I had abandoned. And I found in my sister Heather a kindred spirit.
So whatever your personal feelings about this terrible movie may be, I, for one, genuinely love it.