I love bad movies! I would rather watch Steve Guttenberg with a fake accent and hair extensions riding a motorcycle than rent Citizen Kane. It is an ongoing sickness that I have finally come to terms with—I have even begun taking pride in my dogged devotion to certain awful films, which is like flaunting your ability to look pregnant after eating a big meal.
But what’s not to love about terrible movies? They’re usually easier to understand than good movies, and watching them makes you feel smarter and more talented (and if they have small, misguided costume and makeup budgets, you also get to feel prettier). When I was in high-school, their very existence did wonders for my fragile self-esteem. “I have no date to prom,” I would think, “but at least I didn’t produce Waterworld.”
A good movie teaches you about yourself; a bad movie can also teach you about yourself, but it will be things you didn’t really want to know. Bad films also taught me just how long ninety minutes can be, and that a sequel is in trouble when the only actors retained from the original film are the high-school principal and football coach.
Still, despite my vastly impressive and socially crippling bad movie expertise, last night I was revealed as the fraud I am. For years, I have called myself a connoisseur of bad movies without having seen Xanadu. I now realize that this was equivalent of claiming to be an authority on the English language without having read Shakespeare. Also, comparing the two is a felony, or should be.
Xanadu, a ‘roller-disco musical’ from 1981, is even worse than it sounds, which I didn’t think was possible until I saw it. Critics claim that it is arguably the cornerstone of modern cinematic failure—and by ‘critics’ I mean most anyone who has seen the whole thing. Certainly it was not the first-ever movie to be bad, but it is now clear to me that it lowered the bar to a whole new basement level. Nothing else I have ever seen comes close to Xanadu’s perfect-storm-like combination of naive optimism, jaunty unselfconsciousness, and Olivia Newton John in a peasant blouse and roller skates.
Perhaps it was the constant flashing neon lights, or the dramatic, eye-twitch-inducing hairstyles that were not acceptable in any decade or dimension that has ever existed or will ever exist (trust me on this one). Maybe it was the part, early on, where the hero, a struggling artist, tore up a drawing and said, “Aw, hell, guys like me shouldn’t dream anyway.” Or the montage of dance numbers near the end that made my brain try to eat itself. Or the sudden and baffling interlude in which the romantic leads inexplicably turn into cartoon birds and fly around chasing each other. Or the fact that every time you try to forget that Gene Kelly stars in this movie, he starts dancing around and it’s like he’s dancing on your heart.
I can’t go on. I need to take my mind off of this movie. The doctors say I shouldn’t upset myself. Let me just say that I think it was the almost tragic unselfconsciousness that finally got me in the end. It was like watching Miss America flash a dazzling smile with spinach in her teeth.
If anyone else has seen Xanadu and has an opinion on it, or advice for me, I would love to hear it. Mostly, I just want to feel like I am not alone. I have landed on the other side, and I will never be able to find my way back. Nothing will ever be the same.
Maybe I need to watch it again.